NIU undefeated against BCS conference teams

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) -- Northern Illinois has exceeded coach Joe Novak's high expectations.

The Huskies (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP), ranked for the first time in school history, beat Iowa State 24-16 Saturday, with Michael Turner running for 134 yards and Josh Haldi passing for two touchdowns.

"I knew we had a real good football team," Novak said. "But in my wildest dreams, I didn't think we'd be 4-0 at this point."

The win gave the Huskies (4-0) a 3-0 record against teams from BCS conferences and should keep them in the Top 25 for at least another week. They knocked off Maryland in overtime to open the season and beat Alabama on the road last Saturday.

Northern Illinois led 17-16 late in the fourth quarter when safety Akil Grant picked off a wobbling pass and returned it 8 yards to midfield. Iowa State's Austin Flynn was hit from behind, sending the ball fluttering into the air and into Grant's hands.

The late interception set up a 49-yard drive that ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Haldi to P.J. Fleck with 1:55 remaining.

Iowa State (2-2) got the ball back at its own 29, but Flynn was sacked twice and threw a pair of incompletions as Northern Illinois took over at its own 15 and ran out the clock.

As the Northern Illinois players did in their upset of then-No. 14 Maryland, they ran over to the student section as a group and celebrated the school's best start since 1965.

The Huskies open conference play next week against Ohio.

"You win four games like we have, I'll guarantee you we've got a confident group right now," Novak said. "As great as this has been, it doesn't mean anything. We've got a lot left to play, a lot to do."

Iowa State moved the ball on Northern Illinois, outgaining the Huskies in total yardage 355-334.

But Flynn, a freshman, was erratic. He missed open receivers and threw a pair of interceptions, finishing 16-of-33 for 182 yards and no touchdowns. He also had 29 yards rushing.

"He got a little rattled," said Vinson Reynolds, who picked off Flynn's pass in the first half.

After the game, coach Dan McCarney praised his young quarterback and said people need to be patient with him.

"He'll get better. It's real hard learning lessons from losing, but he'll get better," McCarney said. "He's going to be something special."

The Cyclones have lost 25 in a row on the road against ranked opponents, a winless stretch that covers 13 years.

Northern Illinois led 14-10 at halftime, but Iowa State kicker Adam Benike had field goals of 43 and 26 yards to give the Cyclones a two-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

After Benike's second field goal, the Huskies responded with an 11-play, 59-yard drive -- their longest of the game. Turner ran the ball five times for 19 yards and Haldi was 3-of-3 for 34 yards to set up Steve Azar's game-winning 26-yard field goal.

Haldi finished 15-of-22 for 167 yards.

Iowa State took a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard TD run by Hiawatha Rutland that capped an 8-play, 56-yard drive.

Northern Illinois tied it when Reynolds intercepted a screen pass 5 yards into the backfield and returned it 65 yards to the 13. The Huskies gave it to Turner from there. Turner put Northern Illinois at the 2 on runs of 9 and 2 yards, then scored on the third play of the drive when he hurdled a defender.

"It was a huge play, one of the biggest plays of the game," McCarney said of the Reynolds interception. "They did a great job making a great play to turn that game around."

Benike kicked a 23-yard field goal to make it 10-7 but later missed a 36-yard attempt for the Cyclones.

The Huskies took a 14-10 halftime lead when Haldi threw a 38-yard touchdown to Dan Sheldon just inside the near pylon.

Turner, who came into the game averaging 127 yards rushing, moved past Mark Kellar to become Northern Illinois' career rushing leader with 3,807 yards. Kellar had 3,745 yards from 1971 to 1973.