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Northern Illinois 63, UMass 19

UMass overwhelmed early by Northern Illinois

Massachusetts quarterback Mike Wegzyn (11) is forced out of the pocket by Northern Illinois defensive end Stephen O’Neal

AP Photo/Stew Milne

Massachusetts quarterback Mike Wegzyn (11) is forced out of the pocket by Northern Illinois defensive end Stephen O’Neal

FOXBOROUGH — Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch played just one possession in the third quarter before his day was finished.

That was all UMass coach Charley Molnar needed to see before he was convinced Lynch belonged in the Heisman Trophy conversation. Lynch finished seventh in the voting last season, and he’s considered one of college football’s hidden gems, tucked away in the Mid-American Conference.

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He won’t go unrecognized for long.

The Huskies’ senior signal-caller rushed for 119 yards and four scores and passed for 160 yards and a touchdown as he led 21st-ranked NIU to a 63-19 victory at Gillette Stadium.

Two weeks ago, Lynch rushed for 316 yards, a single-game record for a Bowl Subdivision quarterback.

“He makes it all go,” Molnar said. “There hasn’t been another player that the whole 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] conversation.”

NIU (9-0, 5-0 Mid-American Conference) won its 15th consecutive road game, the second-longest streak in the country. The Huskies also have the longest conference win streak in the nation with 22.

The Minutemen (1-8, 1-4) are off next weekend before facing Akron Nov. 16 to close out a three-game homestand.

With running backs Jamal Wilson and Stacey Bedell injured, Molnar turned to freshman Lorenzo Woodley, who had a breakout performance with 38 carries for 163 yards and a touchdown.

“He was a tremendous workhorse,” Molnar said. “I knew he was durable, I just wanted to see it. And man, was he durable today. He really impressed me.”

Entering the game, Woodley, who had a variety of injuries earlier in the season, had just 34 carries on the year.

“Coming in as a starter, I knew I had to grow up fast,” Woodley said of his first career start. “You have to step up and be mature, even if you’re a freshman, and play to the best of your ability and help this team win a ballgame.

“I had a lot of knick-knack injuries in camp, and felt this is what I can do when I’m healthy and 100 percent.”

UMass kicker Brendon Levengood, who tied a school record with four field goals, kicked a 42-yarder and a career-long 46-yarder on the Minutemen’s first two possessions, but NIU scored touchdowns on its first five drives.

Lynch rushed for two touchdowns to give the Huskies a 14-6 lead. The Minutemen then shanked a punt to give NIU possession at its 44. The Huskies scored again in less than two minutes as Lynch ran three times for 36 yards. He polished off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run, going untouched up the middle, for a 21-6 lead with 10 seconds left in the opening quarter.

On the next possession, UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn (10 for 25, 169 yards), filling in for injured starter A.J. Doyle, was intercepted by defensive tackle Ken Bishop. Bishop returned it to the UMass 6, and Cameron Stingily ran for a 6-yard score to make it 28-6.

Wegzyn bounced back on the next drive. He connected with Tajae Sharpe for 24 yards to get to the NIU 48, and then Woodley picked up 25 yards. Wegzyn hit Sharpe again, this time for 20 yards, and Woodley capped the drive with a 1-yard score to cut the deficit to 28-13 with 9:41 remaining in the first half.

“He made so many good plays,” Molnar said of Wegzyn. “There’s so many plays that we think he is better than he performed out there. To get him to a more consistent level has to be our goal over the next four weeks.”

Aside from an illegal substitution penalty, it was the most complete drive of the game for UMass. But from there, UMass’s troubles only snowballed, as NIU rattled off two more touchdowns before the half for a commanding 42-13 lead. One was a 66-yard pass from Lynch to Juwa Brescacin, the other a 15-yard reverse by wide receiver Tommylee Lewis with 31 seconds remaining in the half.

Before his day was finished, Lynch scored on an 11-yard run that gave NIU a 49-13 lead with 10:21 to play in the third quarter.

Levengood converted 44- and 40-yard field goal attempts later in the third quarter for UMass.

“I was excited just to get the chance to get back in there,” said Levengood, who won a position battle against Blake Lucas last week. “I was mentally getting focused. And it was wind-free today, which was perfect.”

In the fourth quarter, Lynch’s backup, redshirt freshman Drew Hare, hit Chad Beebe for an 81-yard score and rushed for a 47-yard touchdown.

Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@gulizia_a.
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