Thanks to a pair a blocked punt for touchdown and interception return for another score in the final 15:46, as well as some key offensive plays, the Cyclones were able to overcome a two-touchdown deficit.
"To come back like we did in the second half – that says loads about our team," said Blythe, who caught four passes for 104 yards and three scores. "Our defense gave up some points, but kept battling and gave us great field position when we needed it. It was a good team effort today."
Blythe and the Cyclones were on the outside looking in after Phil Horvath's pass to Shatone Powers gave Northern Illinois a 34-20 lead midway through the third quarter. The scoring drive capped a run of 27 unanswered points by the Huskies, and looked to put the dagger in a young ISU team's heart.
After playing so well in the first 22 minutes of the game to take a commanding 20-7 lead, the Cyclones sputtered in nearly every department. Bret Meyer looked like a freshman quarterback, ISU's defense all of a sudden looked like past units in Ames, and the special teams were anything but special.
"Early in the game, after the interception, we kind of let them get back in the game," said senior defensive end Tyson Smith. "We weren't really mentally focused and let some things get out of the gate. We were beating ourselves out there."
But with the offense still sputtering, the Cyclones came up huge in the special teams. Instead of having the tide turned against it like in past seasons, ISU actually turned the momentum in its favor. Ellis Hobbs stormed through the heart of the Huskies' punt team and blocked Chris Nendick's attempt in the end zone. LaMarcus Hicks fell on the ball, and in doing so breathed some life into a stagnant team.
It was a different role for Hobbs, and provided the Cyclones a better result.
"I'm usually doing some other type of scheme, and I've never really come up the middle like that before," said Hobbs, who was happy to make up for his shortcomings on the field with a big play on special teams. "We had a lot of decoys running through and overloaded one side. It just opened up like the Red Sea."
ISU had attempted a punt block earlier in the game, but to no avail. Their second attempt, however, proved to be a game breaker.
"It's huge," said head coach Dan McCarney. "We talked to the team at halftime about getting turnovers and making big plays in special teams. It was a big one. It was tremendous execution by those kids and great effort. You've got to do those things when the momentum is swung their way and we're in a hole. There were a lot of big plays in that game, and fortunately we made more of them than they did."
In this 15-round fight, it also opened up a huge gash in their opponent's defense. Flynn, who had entered the game on the previous drive, put the offense on his shoulders. His four-yard scoring run and two-point conversion pass to James Wright capped a 74-yard drive and tied the score at 34-34 with 9:09 remaining.
All of a sudden, the Cyclones had the upper hand.
"(Coming in to spark this team is) what I thought about all along," said Flynn, who came off the bench for the third time this season. "I knew I was going to get to play, and when I have the chance I need to produce. Today I probably helped out a little bit more than everyone probably expected. It's something I'm going to keep doing if I need to." In limited time, Flynn managed to pass for 76 yards and one score while completing six of his 11 attempts. In doing so, he made the quarterback battle even closer going into Big 12 play.
"He did a real good job and I'm proud of him," McCarney said. "He threw for one and should have had two. Austin played like a veteran in the second half, and I was proud of his execution and leadership. We've got two weeks to evaluate, so I'm not going to make a decision today on who is our starting quarterback. I believe we can win with both of them and still love both those kids."
Either way, McCarney will be searching for more consistent play out of his offense and defense.
"We had all kinds of mistakes and breakdowns, but in the end the most important statistic is whether you win or lose," ISU's head coach said. "It's a lot easier going back to practice and meetings tomorrow to correct those mistakes having beat a team that will win a lot of games this year.
"It was not a great day for us defensively. But the bottom line was, as I told (defensive coordinator) John Skladany, we won the game. We don't like giving up lots of yards and points. We won the football game and know we've got to get a lot better against Oklahoma State. But still the big plays we made – scoring twice on defense and then on special teams – were things we weren't able to do last year. We're going to have to do that more in the future."
The Cyclone kicking game got even shakier on Saturday.
Spelling an injured Tony Yelk for the third time, Brian Jansen missed three PATs against Northern Illinois. This one week after shanking three field goals against Iowa. McCarney inserted another walk-on, Scott Krava, during the fourth quarter. The former Dallas Center-Grimes standout hit two extra points down the stretch, while missing a 30-yard field goal.
"We need (Yelk) badly," McCarney said. "Brian was very inconsistent today. It's hard to be too critical of a kid that walked in here as a walk-on and coaches didn't even know his name. That's a tough position to be in. But he was erratic today. I was proud of Scott Krava who stepped in. But obviously when Tony gets back it helps us a lot. He's got a strong leg, is consistent, and will have a great senior year."
But no matter how the Cyclones got it done, coaches and players alike will take 2-1 over 1-2 any day.
"It feels five-thousand times better right now," McCarney said. "The morale, attitude, and confidence of those guys being able to still win a game after being in a hole shows a lot about this team."
ISU will travel to Oklahoma State on Oct. 2 after enjoying a bye week next Saturday.