WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – After last week's win over Eastern Illinois, Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward said his team needed to "start the fight."
Despite starting the season unbeaten, NIU has been plagued by slow starts. That wasn't the case Saturday afternoon, as the Huskies lit up the Ross-Ade Stadium scoreboard in a 55-24 win. NIU's 31-point win tied a Mid-American Conference record for margin of victory over a Big Ten school.
"That was our mantra all week, wasn't it Jimmie? We need to start it," NIU coach Rod Carey said after the win, looking over at Ward during a postgame news conference. "We need to start it every week. And then we've got to finish it. It was a big key to the game."
It was Ward who had a key 62-yard interception return in the second half that put NIU up 41-10, and in the process cleared out the Purdue student section.
Saturday's victory was the most lopsided win for NIU against a Big Ten team. This is also the first time since 2003 the Huskies have started a season 4-0, and swept their nonconference schedule.
The Huskies beat the Boilermakers with the pass, as Lynch was 18 of 25 through the air for 207 yards and three touchdowns. He also had a 7-yard rushing touchdown. Tommylee Lewis got the Huskies' first special teams touchdown of the season, taking the opening kickoff of the second half 99 yards for a score to put NIU up by 24 points.
"It definitely set the tone. All the credit goes to the 10 guys, they made all the blocks," Lewis said. "... It was definitely important to get a spark for the half."
Ward's interception return was the Huskies' first defensive touchdown of the season after the defense didn't get into the end zone in all of 2012. Ward came close to stepping out of bounds, but the play stood after being reviewed.
NIU forced five Purdue turnovers, and Boilermakers quarterback Rob Henry was pulled from the game at the end of the first half after a fumble and two interceptions, one in the red zone.
He was replaced by true freshman Danny Etling, who gave the Boilermakers a little spark, throwing two touchdown passes, but it was too little, too late.
NIU begins MAC play next week, where the Huskies will look to move to 5-0 at Kent State, the team they defeated in last year's MAC Championship.