The Daily Chronicle is looking back at the top 10 games of the last decade of NIU football. Today's entry, NIU vs. Kent State in the 2012 MAC Championship game, is No. 1.
Date: Nov. 30, 2012
Score: NIU 44, Kent State 37
Why it was selected: Northern Illinois held off a Kent State comeback attempt, after overcoming a 10-point deficit of its own in winning its second consecutive MAC Championship game, sending the Huskies to the Orange Bowl.
The 2012 Mid-American Conference Championship game, featuring Top 25 ranked squads in both the Huskies and the Golden Flashes, served as a springboard for the MAC's biggest spotlight in conference history, when Northern Illinois' 44-37, double overtime victory propelled NIU to the Orange Bowl.
“It was a lot of hype," Jimmie Ward said. "They had Dri Archer and they was saying he was one of the most explosive guys in college football.”
Both teams were an undefeated 8-0 in the MAC, No. 17 Kent State 11-1 and No. 21 NIU 12-1.
“We were so ready to go, we knew what could happen if we won," punter Tyler Wedel said, referring to the Bowl Championshop Series appearance. "It was pedal to the metal.”
Archer, who scored 23 touchdowns in the 2012 season wracked up 4,980 all-purpose yards as a running back, receiver, punt and kick returner in his career, was held to 15 yards rushing on 12 carries. He gained all those yards on a rushing touchdown in the first quarter that put KSU up 7-0 and collected 81 receiving yards, but did not make other gamebreaking plays for the Golden Flashes.
Kent State went ahead 10-0, only for the Huskies to respond with a Matt Sims field goal and a Jordan Lynch touchdown pass to Martel Moore.
NIU's lead reached as high as 27-13 before the Golden Flashes raced back.
KSU quarterback Spencer Keith hit Tim Erjavec for a 19-yard passing score on third and 7 with 44 seconds left in regulation to tie the game 34-34 and send it to overtime. Both squadsmade field goals on their first overtime possession, Kent State from 33, and NIU's Matt Sims from 40 yards. That set up Akeem Daniels for one of the plays of the day.
Daniels burst through for a 23-yard run, leading to Jordan Lynch's 2-yard rushing score as the Huskies went up seven.
Daniels ran for 128 yards that day on 17 rushes.
Daniels was outdone on the offensive side of the ball by Lynch alone, as he was on full display with 160 yards rushing on 36 carried and toted the ball on three rushing scores. Lynch also threw for 212 yards.
“Akeem was a great running back," Moore said. "We knew if we gave him a little space and a little time, he’s going to bust one. And then having Jordan I didn’t have no doubt we were not going to get into that end zone.”
In response on offense, KSU picked up a first down on a pass interference call to move the ball to the NIU 11-yard line. Trayion Durham ran for 2 yards, then Keith threw consecutive incomplete passes. After Kent State coach Darrell Hazell called a timeout, Keith prepped to take the shotgun snap facing fourth and 8.
Keith took to the snap, looked to his left, and scrambled to his right as Ken Bishop provided heavy pressure. A rushed Keith threw the ball into the end zone, where Demetrius Stone hauled in the interception and the Huskie celebration began.
“That game was so big," Moore said. "It was going back-and-forth and we just dug deep. I’ll never forget the game because just knowing that everybody contributed."
Ward looks back on with great fondness, and went on to play in another MAC Championship game a season later in a loss to Bowling Green after having won titles in 2011 and 2012.
“Wining two MAC championships back-to-back man, that was a great experience," Ward said. "I’m glad I got to go through that.”
Finding themselves trailing frequently during the 2012 season, the 2012 Huskies proved to be one of the more resielent squads in program history.
"There was a lot of games where we were not winning the game in the first half of the football game," Wedel said. "You never got a sense of panic. There was never any panic with our team. I think that’s just how tight the guys were and how confident we were to do the job.”
Ward sees what the Huskies did in 2012 as helping push the program to great, and sustainable, heights.
“We just laid a good foundation down, letting people know you can come to NIU. You can come, you can win the MAC or you can (get) to a BCS bowl game," Ward said. "You can get drafted if that’s what you want to do and you can get a degree.”
No. 10 – NIU wins on the road at Toledo
No. 9 – NIU defeats EIU at home
No. 7 — NIU wins at Nebraska
No. 6 — NIU pulls out win at Iowa
No. 5 — NIU wins shootout at Toledo
Today – No. 1, NIU edges Kent State for MAC title