DETROIT – Northern Illinois has gone back to back.
For the second straight year and third time in school history, the No. 19 Huskies are Mid-American Conference champions after beating No. 18 Kent State, 44-37, in double overtime of Friday’s MAC Championship game at Ford Field.
With the win, NIU (12-1), which is ranked No. 21 in the BCS standings, gave itself a shot at a BCS bowl berth. Should the Huskies finish in the top 16 in the BCS standings and ahead of a conference champion from one of the six automatic-qualifying leagues, NIU will be headed to a BCS bowl. The Huskies should finish ahead of the Big East champion.
NIU was helped out by No. 8 Stanford, which beat No. 16 UCLA in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship game. The Bruins’ loss could push the Huskies ahead of them in the final BCS poll.
Just like last year’s MAC Championship victory over Ohio, this one wasn’t easy for NIU. After being down 14 points in the second half, Kent State (11-2) fought back to send the game into overtime. In the second OT period, the Huskies got the ball first and quarterback Jordan Lynch jumped into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run to put NIU up by seven.
The Huskies got the win after Golden Flashes quarterback Spencer Keith was picked off by Demetrius Stone on fourth-and-8 from the NIU 9-yard line.
“We just kept playing. Nobody flinched. Everybody believed,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said after the game. “I think that’s what we do. We’ve been in tough places before. Just really proud of resolve and the leadership and the [fight] our team has.”
After having a hard time finding room to run early, Lynch did what he’s done all year, running for 160 yards and three touchdowns, extending his NCAA record with his 11th straight 100-yard rushing game. He threw for 212 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
With his 43-yard fourth-down run in the third quarter, the junior broke Michigan QB Denard Robinson’s single-season record for rushing yards for a quarterback.
The Huskies had 524 yards of total offense compared to just 260 for Kent State. The Golden Flashes got going late in the game, scoring twice in the final five minutes.
While NIU jumped up and down after Stone’s interception, the Kent State players stood – or sat – on the field in disbelief. The Huskies hoisted the MAC championship trophy for the second consecutive season.
The Golden Flashes, meanwhile, will have to wait at least one more year for their first conference title since 1972.
Despite the tough loss, Kent State coach Darrell Hazell was impressed with the way his team was able to get back in the game.
“That’s what this team’s been about all year,” he said. “We’ve had tremendous resolve. We’ve been down quite a few times this year in the second half and found a way to scratch back in the game and make enough plays to win the football game. The character of this team has been like that all season long.
“We didn’t get it done tonight, but it’s been like that all season.”