TOLEDO, Ohio — Backed up against the end zone on third down, Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch had the defense right where he wanted.
He dropped back, waited until he spotted an opening and scrambled up the middle for a first down that sparked a 99-yard drive, clinching a 35-17 victory over Toledo on Wednesday night.
The No. 20 Huskies also secured a fourth consecutive trip to the Mid-American Conference title game.
Lynch, their do-it-all quarterback, said he never felt rattled, even with little room for error. That’s because he said the Huskies practiced those 99-yard drives.
“That’s a momentum killer,” he said. “It’s a real dagger to the defense.”
Lynch finished with three touchdowns — all in the second half — and 161 yards on 28 carries. The third score on a 1-yard dive came at the end of the Huskies’ long drive in the fourth quarter.
He ran for 62 yards on seven carries during the drive, the big play coming when he scrambled out of the end zone to pick up a first down.
The Huskies (11-0, 7-0 MAC) extended their 24-game conference winning streak and are off to the best start in school history.
Lynch was 17-of-22 passing for 202 yards as he improved to 23-2 as a starter.
Northern Illinois is still in the hunt for a second straight Bowl Championship Series appearance after playing in the Orange Bowl last season. The Huskies are 16th in this week’s BCS rankings.
They need to keep winning and move ahead of Fresno State in the standings to keep their hopes alive.
Northern Illinois is the first MAC team to appear in four straight league championship games since Marshall did it six seasons in a row from 1997 to 2002. The Huskies have won the past two MAC titles.
The Huskies’ offense sputtered in the first half without their two leading receivers, Tommylee Lewis and Da’Ron Brown, because of injuries. Lewis didn’t dress for the game, and Brown went out in the first quarter with an injured toe.
Toledo (7-4, 5-2) shut down Lynch too, holding him to 30 yards on the ground in the first half.
But there was no panic.
Huskies coach Rod Carey said all he had to do was remind his team to finish their drives.
“That calmed the guys down,” Carey said.
One guy he wasn’t worried about being rattled was his quarterback.
“He’s pretty decisive,” Carey said. “When he’s running and making plays, that’s just him.”
Lynch’s second touchdown came when he faked a handoff and raced up the middle for a 31-yard touchdown, pulling the Huskies ahead for good at 21-17 with 6:15 left in the third quarter.
“He’s always poised,” said receiver Juwan Brescacin, who had eight receptions for 121 yards.