Talk about early momentum swings. Iowa State's defense came up big on just the second play from scrimmage when Nik Moser picked off a pass from Phil Horvath and returned it for a touchdown and 6-0 lead.
The Cyclone defense suffocated Northern Illinois throughout much of the opening quarter. In fact, the Huskies' only first down in their opening two drives was a pass interference penalty on DeAndre Jackson. Thanks to some solid defense, Bret Meyer and the offense took advantage of great field position. Taking possession at the NIU 39-yard line, Meyer launched a touchdown pass to Todd Blythe. It was the third touchdown reception in as many games for Blythe, a redshirt freshman.
The Husky offense finally got going late in the session. Horvath threw a pass into triple coverage that Marcus Perez pulled down and ran 39 yards. NIU put it in the end zone just four plays later when Garrett Wolfe charged up the middle for 21 yards. The score cut ISU's lead to 13-7 with two minutes remaining in the quarter.
Advantage: Iowa State.
After a pair of three-and-outs by both offenses, the Cyclones struck again in impressive fashion. Meyer connected with Blythe again for a long gainer, this one a 47-yard touchdown catch. On the drive, Meyer completed all three of his pass attempts for 82 yards.
Northern Illinois countered on the ensuing drive, going 65 yards in just six plays for a touchdown. Tight end Brad Cieslak caught a pair of passes from Horvath for 43 yards. Then, the Husky quarterback hit Sam Hurd in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Hurd jumped up and snatched the ball out of Ellis Hobbs' grasp.
NIU took momentum over on ISU's next play from scrimmage. Meyer threw his first interception in three games as a starter, as Husky strong safety Ray Smith picked him and returned it 20 yards. Three plays later, A.J. Harris slashed the middle of the Cyclone defense for a nine-yard scoring run.
The Cyclones' offense continued its downward spiral on the next two drives, going three-and-out on both. Meyer missed on all four of his pass attempts and was sacked once.
Now with all of the momentum and great field position, the Huskies struck again late in the half. Horvath connected with Cieslak for a 16-yard touchdown with 45 seconds left. NIU's quarterback completed all three of his pass attempts during the drive for 36 yards, and gave his team a 28-20 edge going into the locker room.
Advantage: Northern Illinois.
The Cyclone offense picked up a pair of first downs to open the second half, but stalled out after a fumbled snap by Bret Meyer on a 2nd-and-8 play. Troy Blankenship pinned the Huskies deep in their own territory at the two-yard line, giving the defense a chance to re-seize some momentum.
However, it was just the opposite. All NIU did was march 98 yards the other way for a touchdown to take control, 34-20, at the 7:05 mark. Unlike in past drives when Horvath torched the Cyclone secondary, the Huskies instead chose to gash the Cyclone defense on the ground. Harris rushed for 36 yards during the drive. Horvath capped it off by connecting with Shatone Powers in the end zone from eight yards out. Another costly pass interference penalty – this one on 3rd-and-11 – by Cyclone cornerback DeAndre Jackson helped extend the drive.
Austin Flynn re-entered the game for ISU after NIU's touchdown, and provided a much-needed spark. The sophomore hit on three of his first four passes for a combined 41 yards. Tyease Thompson also mixed in a 13-yard run, as ISU marched near the red zone. However, after a five-yard carry on first down, the Cyclone quarterback fired three consecutive incomplete passes. But Flynn was not to blame, as passes were dropped by Jon Davis and Blythe, who missed a sure touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
Advantage: Northern Illinois.
Flynn remained in the game to start the final session, and again led the offense on a long drive. This time, however, his receivers didn't drop any balls. Instead, Todd Miller made a great leaping catch in traffic for 18 yards on a 3rd-and-4 play. Stevie Hicks made his most impressive run of the game late in the drive, gaining 28 yards down to the Husky one.
ISU's quarterback later capped off the drive with a four-yard option for touchdown. He later converted the two-point conversion by finding James Wright in the end zone, making it 34-34 with 9:09 remaining.
After tying the game, Flynn and company didn't spend much more time on the sidelines. Horvath fired an interception into the hands of Jackson on 3rd-and-9. The Cyclone corner returned it to the 28-yard line. After a loss by Hicks on first down, Flynn picked up a fresh set of downs on 2nd-and-12 by hitting Jon Davis for 13 yards. Hicks picked up 11 yards and another first down on the following play.
Later, on 3rd-and-4 from the five, Flynn threw a fade pattern to Blythe in the corner of the end zone for the receiver's third score of the game. ISU took a 41-34 edge with 5:13 remaining. An even bigger accomplishment was that a Cyclone kicker made an extra point. But it took Scott Krava entering the game to do so.
Robertson put the finishing touches on an ISU victory by picking off Horvath at the 20-yard line and running it into the end zone for a touchdown. Krava added another extra point to make it 48-34 with 19 seconds remaining.
Advantage: Iowa State.