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Iowa spoils Northern Illinois’ upset bid

By Fred Mitchell, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — The ominous dark clouds that hung over Soldier Field before Saturday’s Iowa-Northern Illinois game gave no immediate indication which team might be doomed.

In the end, it was the upstart Huskies as the Hawkeyes’ sophomore tailback Damon Bullock raced 23 yards to the end zone with 2 minutes, 15 seconds remaining to give the Hawkeyes an 18-17 victory.

A crowd of 52,117, predominantly wearing Iowa’s gold and black, saw the Hawkeyes beat NIU for the eighth straight time. But this one was in much less convincing fashion. The Huskies’ defense sacked quarterback Jim Vandenberg six times and held Iowa to four Mike Meyer field goals until Bullock’s late dash.

The loss, considered a home game for NIU, ended the nation’s longest winning streak among Football Bowl Subdivision schools at nine.

“It’s tough when you put that much on the table, when you invest that much, when you play that hard … to come away with a loss,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “These guys are resilient. … They’ll bounce back tomorrow and get on track.”

NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, making his first career start, completed just 6 of 16 passes for 54 yards. But the Mount Carmel alum rushed for 119 yards on 18 carries, including a 73-yard touchdown run that put the Huskies on top 17-9 in the third quarter.

Northern Illinois went ahead 7-3 on the first play of the second period when freshman tailback Keith Harris Jr. from Leo High School scored on his first collegiate carry from 7 yards out.

“I thought we held our own,” Lynch said. “Iowa has one of the best defenses in the Big Ten.”

The NIU defense held Iowa to 268 total yards. Only once last year did the Huskies hold an opponent to less than that. Vandenberg completed 21 of 33 passes but for only 129 yards. His longest completion went for 20 yards.

“I don’t know if we’re a defensive identity (team), but we have confidence in our offense, too,” NIU defensive end Alan Baxter said. “We definitely knew that we had a lot of returners on defense this year and we were going to be leaned on at the beginning of the season to let the offensive guys get their feet wet a little bit.”

Iowa’s winning score was set up after John Wienke’s 43-yard punt pinned the Huskies down at their own 1. With the Huskies leading 17-12 and the wind swirling in their faces, Doeren could have elected to take the safety to make the score 17-14, before making a free kick from NIU’s own 20.

Instead, punter Ryan Neir’s boot three plays later with 3:41 left traveled just 34 yards and Micah Hyde returned it 11 yards to the 24. Two plays later, Bullock ran to his left untouched to the end zone.

“One of (my assistants) asked me (about taking the safety),” Doeren said. “I don’t know if that would have helped us or not helped us.”

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