Northern Illinois puts a hurtin’ on Minutemen, 63-19

FOXBOROUGH — No Mid-American Conference football team has done it better over the last four seasons than Northern Illinois, and Saturday, the Huskies and all-action quarterback Jordan Lynch turned Gillette Stadium into their own personal playground.

UMass could offer only token resistance as Lynch ran for four touchdowns and threw for a fifth, and the unbeaten 21st-ranked Huskies matched their 2012 point total against the Minutemen in a 63-19 blood-letting before 10,061.

The Minutemen (1-8, 1-4 MAC) improved only fractionally from their 63-0 loss at NIU last season, and got their own highlight performances from freshman back Lorenzo Woodley (38 carries, 163 yards, TD) and kicker Brendon Levengood with a school record-tying four field goals, all from at least 40 yards. But after an early 3-0 lead and 7-6 deficit, UMass was never in the discussion thereafter.

Lynch scored three touchdowns in the first quarter alone to take that 7-6 score all the way to 28-6 in less than 61∕2 minutes. By halftime, NIU (9-0, 5-0 MAC) led 42-13. Lynch (17 carries, 119 yards; 10-of-13 passing, 160 yards) added his fourth rushing TD early in the third quarter, took the rest of the afternoon off, and left nothing but awe and accolades in his wake.

“We had a chance to go against one of the 20 best teams in the country, a team that humiliated us a year ago,” said UMass head coach Charley Molnar. “I can’t tell you that I feel good about today’s results, I certainly don’t, but I don’t feel humiliated. I feel like we’ve closed some ground on them.

“(Lynch) makes it all go. There’s not been another player that the offense is so dependent on. All your focus is on Jordan, it has to be. In one-on-ones, he killed us today. He certainly should be in the (Heisman Trophy) conversation, and that football team should be in the (Bowl Championship Series) conversation.”

Northern Illinois needed less than 26 minutes of possession time to rack up 612 yards of total offense, with 354 on the ground and 258 through the air. Once Lynch came out of the game, his backup Matt McIntosh played two series before leaving with an injury. That allowed redshirt freshman Drew Hare to enter and throw an 81-yard TD pass to fellow frosh Chad Beebe, then Hare capped the scoring with a 47-yard scoring run on a scramble.

Levengood, the Minutemen’s usual kickoff specialist, was called upon to replace Blake Lucas as placekicker, and answered the call with first-quarter field goals of 42 and 46 yards. The redshirt senior hit 8-of-12 field goals between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, with his previous career long a 38-yarder against Boston College in 2011.

“I was excited just to get the chance to get back in there and be kicking again,” said Levengood. “I tried to stay positive. I was given a role for kickoffs, so I took that seriously. Whatever they ask me to do, just kick off or come in and kick field goals, I’m gonna do it to the best of my ability.”

With third-quarter boots of 44 and 40 yards, Levengood tied the UMass single-game record of four field goals set by George Papoutsidis against Ball State Sept. 1, 1984.

Woodley, a freshman who scored UMass’ late touchdown last week against Western Michigan just before the failed two-point conversion that could have won the game, got the nod as starting running back Saturday following injuries to Stacey Bedell and Jamal Wilson. He scored UMass’ lone touchdown on a 1-yard run with 9:41 left in the first half, pulling the Minutemen to within 28-13 at the time.

“I felt this is what I can do when I’m healthy and 100 percent,” said Woodley. “Coming in as a starter, I knew I had to grow up fast. You have to step up and be mature, even if you’re a freshman.”

“He was a tremendous workhorse for us,” said Molnar of Woodley. “I knew he was durable, I just wanted to see it happen. He really impressed me.”

Quarterback Mike Wegzyn replaced injured A.J. Doyle and went the distance for the Minutemen, completing 10-of-25 passes for 169 yards with two interceptions. Tajae Sharpe had five catches for 65 yards.

After a bye this weekend, UMass returns to action Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. against Akron (3-7, 2-4 MAC), the Minutemen’s final game at Gillette Stadium this season.

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