In Northern Illinois' biggest game of the season, Huskies senior quarterback Jordan Lynch rose to the occasion.
Lynch piled up 476 yards of total offense and accounted for four touchdowns as NIU beat Ball State 48-27 Wednesday night in a battle for first place in the Mid-American Conference West Division. The game was closer than the final score indicated; the game was tied at 27 before NIU (10-0) scored three TDs in the final 5:49, including two -- one on an interception return with 46 seconds left -- in the final 1:26.
The victory kept alive NIU's hopes of a second consecutive BCS berth and Lynch's long-shot hopes of being invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
Lynch (6-foot-0, 216 pounds) finished seventh in last season's Heisman voting and has a shot at a top-five finish this season, especially if voters saw his performance Wednesday against a Ball State team that came in 9-1.
Lynch was 26 of 33 for a season-high 345 yards and two TDs, including a perfectly thrown 36-yarder to DaRon Brown that gave NIU the lead for good with 5:49 left in the game. Lynch also ran for 123 yards and two scores. His passing total was the second-highest of his career, and his rushing total was the fifth time this season and the 17th time in the past 24 games he rushed for 100 yards. He went into the contest ninth in the nation in rushing at 127.8 yards per game.
Lynch lacks elite speed, but he is elusive and can make quick cuts. While he was sacked once, he should've been dropped at least three more times, instead wriggling out of attempted tackles with his strength.
"He's a very good player," Ball State coach Pete Lembo said after the game. "He's fast. He's built like a linebacker, but he's got tailback speed [Lynch is a 4.6 guy in the 40]. He's got a lot of savvy. I'm looking forward to him getting his degree and moving on."
NIU coach Rod Carey did some stumping for his quarterback afterward.
"If Jordan isn't in the conversation for the Heisman, I don't know what people are watching; they were obviously asleep," he said. " ... From the performance he had tonight, he dang sure should be in that conversation."
Lynch is lacking as a pro prospect at quarterback because of his lack of height and his lack of arm strength. But some analysts, including NFL Media's Gil Brandt, think there could be a spot for him at the next level if he changes positions.
Lynch's Ball State counterpart, Keith Wenning, was 35 of 49 for 324 yards, a TD and an interception. It was the ninth 300-yard game of the season for the strong-armed Wenning, who looks to be a solid third-day draft prospect. It was the first time in five games he didn't throw at least three TD passes. He has 28 TD passes and six interceptions this season.
Both quarterbacks proved they could overcome the elements. Temperature at kickoff was 32 degrees -- it was in the mid-20s in the second half -- and the wind was about 16 mph.