With the 17th installment of the MAC Championship Game coming up this Friday, between the Bowling Green Falcons and Northern Illinois Huskies, here's a look back at the 16 previous games - ranked worst to best. The order was selected by a few key criteria; including how exciting the game was (blowouts just don't have the same appeal) and the impact that it had on the college football season (there have been a few very important games).
So without further ado:
16: 2003 - (13)Miami 49, (20)Bowling Green 27
This was the first MAC Championship Game to feature two top-25 teams, but it was anything but close. After Bowling Green took a 14-7 lead with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter, the RedHawk quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, took over. Miami outscored Bowling Green 42-6 over the next 25 minutes. Turnovers hurt the Falcons, as they had three giveaways and struggled to move the ball at all. Roethlisberger ended the day with 440 yards and 4 TDs, each to a different receiver.
15: 2006 - Central Michigan 31, Ohio 10
Dan LeFevour led CMU to it's first MAC Championship in an easy win over the Bobcats. CMU never trailed, taking an early 7-0 lead. Ohio would score it's only TD early in the second quarter, but couldn't muster much of anything else. The Chips amassed 457 total yards, while holding Ohio to just 224. Despite the lopsided yardage, it was a seven point game until the fourth quarter, when CMU's Ontario Sneed took over, scoring on a 96-yard and a 4-yard reception. LeFevour was 22-30 for 314 yards with three touchdowns.
14: 2007 - Central Michigan 35, Miami 10
The Chips won back to back titles, and again were big in the fourth quarter. The first half was a defensive battle, CMU scoring the lone touchdown late in the first quarter. But, in the second half, CMU adjusted, on it's way to the largest margin of victory in a MAC Championship game. In the second half CMU scored four touchdowns (three in the fourth quarter) in a 15 minute span, all on runs from Sneed or LeFevour. LeFevour was the original Jordan Lynch, as he was 24-34 passing for 185 yards and had 20 carries for 170 yards with three total scores.
13: 1997 - Marshall 34, Toledo 14
The very first MAC Championship game featured two 9-2 teams, and would be the first of SIX straight appearanecs for Marshall. After Toledo took a 7-3 lead into the half, Marshall's WR Randy Moss (perhaps you've heard of him) put the team on his back in the second half - scoring three times, including an 86-yard bomb from QB Chad Pennington - that gave Marshall a 27-7 lead, cementing their victory.
12: 2009 - Central Michigan 20, Ohio 10
The Chippewas grabbed their third MAC title in four years when, just like in 2006, their defense held Ohio to under 300 yards (this time the Bobcats had 275 total yards). LeFevour, in his final season, led CMU to their 11th win with his 255 passing yards and 51 rushing yards and two passing TDs. Unlike most of the previous games, where the scoring took place in the second half, this game was almost closed at the half. CMU went up 10-0 early and a last second TD by Ohio cut it to a three point game. The teams traded field goals in the third and the defenses ran out the clock in the fourth - preserving the 20-10 Chippewa win.
11: 2004 - Toledo 35, Miami 27
Bruce Gradkowski, Toledo's quarterback, led the Rockets to their second MAC title with an explosive second half. Miami took a 14-7 lead after the first quarter, but Toledo battle back after the half. Despite Miami quarterback, Josh Betts, passing for over 300 yards and three scores, Toledo was able to score four of the next five touchdowns - racking up 21 points in the third quarter alone. Gradkowski had five total touchdown passes, all over 20+ yards, for 251 yards. Scooter McDougle added 167 rushing yards for the Rockets.
10: 2000 - Marshall 19, Western Michigan 14
Marshall sneaked into this game with a 5-3 MAC record, but showed they played well on the big stage. At the half, Marshall had opened up a 13-0 lead, capped by two field goals and a 44-yard touchdown pass from Byron Leftwich to Darius Watts. But the Broncos weren't done. They stormed back on Jeff Welsh's two TD passes, a 22-yard strike and a 44-bomb to give WMU the lead with under 13 minutes to play. The lead would only last 7 minutes, as Leftwich added a 29-yard TD pass to reclaim Marshall's lead. The Herd missed the two-point conversion, leading just 19-14, but a late pick gave Marshall the win.
9: 1998 - Marshall 23, Toledo 17
The Thundering Herd and Rockets played to a halftime score of 6-7 (very un-#MACtiony), with a missed extra point giving Toledo that slim lead. Surprisingly, there was no scoring in the second or third quarters. It wasn't until the final 15 minutes that the offense had anything to show for themselves. After Toledo managed a FG in the first minute of the the fourth, Chad Pennington drove Marshall down the field and found Nate Poole in the endzone - giving Marshall a 13-10 lead. The Hurd's defense then helped their cause, returning a Rocket fumble for a touchdown, and a 10-point cushion. Marshall would add a field goal and the Rockets would score again, but too little too late.
8: 2008 - Buffalo 42, (12) Ball State 24
Ball State was undefeated and had climbed to 12th in the nation...until the Buffalo Bulls got through with them. Cardinal QB, Nate Davis, had lead his team to a 10-7 halftime lead, but it would all come crashing down as the Bulls to outscore Ball State 35-14 in the final 30 minutes. Davis and running back, Miquale Lewis lead an offense that gained 503 yards to Buffalo's 301. But four fumbles, two of which Buffalo took back for touchdowns (including a 92-yard return), doomed the Cardinals. Buffalo won it's first, and only (so far), MAC title as QB Drew Willy led the team, going 19-28 for 206 yards and a trio of scores. It was the first time Buffalo ever bested a top-25 team.
7: 2005 - Akron 31, Northern Illinois 30
The Huskies and Zips both played in their first MAC Championship games in 2005, and it was a classic. Akron stormed out to a 10 point lead after the first quarter, but Northern countered with 10 of their own in the second, tying the score at the half. The Huskies would strike for two scores in the third - a run by Garret Wolfe and a reception by Sam Hurd gave NIU a 24-10 lead. The Huskies wouldn't find the endzone again...Akron would. The Zips had two TD runs in the fourth quarter and held NIU to two field goals - giving the Huskies a 24-30 advantage with under three minutes left. Akron drove down the field and, with just 10 seconds left, threw up a 37-yard Hail Mary into the back of the endzone. Domenik Hixon came down with it for Akron, tying the game with 3 seconds to go. The extra point sealed it for the Zips, 31-30.
6: 2002 - (24) Marshall 49, Toledo 45
This marked the fourth meeting between the Rockets and Herd in the MAC Championship game...and was #MACtion at it's finest. There were at least two touchdowns scored in every quarter as Marshall outlasted the Rockets on Byron Leftwich's heroics yet again. After being outscored 28-17 at the half, Toledo made a furious second half comeback - scoring four touchdowns while holding Marshall to just two. The Rockets claimed a 45-42 lead with just 3:35 remaining, but Leftwich would methodically drive down the field - finally scoring on a deep pass with under :50 seconds left. Toledo had one more chance but with no timeouts, and a Hail Mary being knocked down in the endzone, the Rockets couldn't complete the upset.
5: 2011 - Northern Illinois 23, Ohio 20
In the 2011 showdown, an epic comeback gave the Huskies their first MAC title since 1983. Ohio came out roaring in the first half and jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead behind a couple NIU turnovers and Tyler Tettleton's 18-yard scamper. But Chandler Harnish and the Huskies were not to be denied. In the second half, Harnish netted three TDs. A grab by Nathan Palmer halfway through the third got the Huskies on the board and early in the fourth, Martell Moore grabbed a 32-yard TD, but the Huskies missed the PAT, trailing 13-20. After a huge interception by the Huskie defense, Harnish found Palmer for the game tying score - a 22-yard catch with less than three minutes to go. After a three and out by Ohio, the Huskie drove down the field and, as time expired, kicker Matthew Sims netted a 33-yard field goal for the win.
4: 2010 - Miami 26, (24) Northern Illinois 21
The 2010 installment featured a 10-2 Huskie team that had just cracked the top-25 against Miami, who had gone 1-11 the year before but won 7 MAC games to claim the East title. Miami and NIU battled in the first half, trading two touchdowns each, with a blocked PAT giving NIU a 14-13 edge at the break. Midway in the third, Miami scored on a 1-yard scamper and took a 20-14 lead. On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Huskies would strike back on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Chandler Harnish. The extra point gave the Huskies a slim 21-20 lead. After the defenses held strong for the next 14 mintues, Miami found themselves in a fourth and twenty with under 45 seconds left. On a Hail Mary pass, a NIU defender knocked the ball away...but right into the hands of a Miami receiver (Chris Givens), who took it 31-yards. Two plays later, the RedHawks would score and claim their second title.
3: 1999 - (11) Marshall 34, Western Michigan 30
The ending was nothing short of amazing, as the Herd was able to continue it's winning ways. But Western Michigan came out firing, taking a huge lead on the 11 ranked Marshall team. At the half, the Broncos were winning 20-0, and an early third quarter field goal made it 23-0. But the Herd, in their third straight Championship game, would not be denied. Chad Pennington and company embarked on a huge comback, scoring 28 points (two rushing, two passing TDs) in just eight and a half minutes of game time - giving Marshall an improbably 27-23 lead. But the lead wouldn't last long, as WMU fianlly scored again - taking a 30-27 lead. But Pennington, calm as could be, lead Marshall to the WMU 1-yard line, with just four seconds remaining. And he would not be denied - connecting with Eric Pinkerton for the 34-30 come from behind win.
2: 2001 - Toledo 41, (20) Marshall 36
Toledo claimed it's first MAC title on a remarkable comeback over one of the best teams in the country, and that's why the 2001 game sits an number two. Marshall did what Marshall normally did back then: scored a lot quickly. Two Leftwich TD passes, a 62-yard run, and a field goal put the Herd up 23-0 after just 15:03 of game time. Late in the second quarter Toledo started it's comeback - scoring 10 points in the final 6 minutes - but the third quarter would be their coming out party. After the half, the Rockets blitzed Marshall - scoring 25 points while holding Marshall to just six. Toledo took the lead on a 16-yard run with 4:28 left in the third, the 2-point conversion gave them a 32-29 lead. Just three minutes later the Rockets would score again, increasing their lead to 35-29. Leftwich was used to pressure though, and led Marshall to another touchdown, a 18-yard strike with 12 minutes left, handing Marshall a 36-35 lead. Toledo would drive down themselves and, with 6:34 remaining, Chester Taylor would give the Rockets the lead for good on an 8-yard run. The missed 2-point conversion meant Toledo only lead by five, but luckily for the Rockets, their defense did what no one else could in a MAC Championship game...they stopped Marshall and won.
1: 2012 - (19) Northern Illinois 44, (18) Kent State 37 (2 OT)
The top spot belongs to last years game for a few reasons. It was the only game to go into overtime, let alone double OT. Oh, and also it was the stepping stone for the Huskies to break into the BCS - a MAC first. It should be pretty fresh in your memory, since it happened just 370 days ago, but for those who forgot...here's a quick recap.
Both teams entered the game with an 11-1 record. Kent State had lost to Kentucky in their second game - winning 10 straight - and the Huskies had won 11 straight, after an opening game 1-point loss to Iowa. The Golden Flashes took an early 10-0 lead, but NIU countered. The Huskies outscored Kent State 27-3 over the next two quarters and lead by two touchdowns at the start of the fourth. With less than 5 minutes remaining, Kent State made it's move - scoring two touchdowns in 15 seconds (a 5-yard run and a 22-yard fumble return) tying the game at 27. Jordan Lynch, in his first MAC Championship game, would recover and score on a 9-yard run with just 3:22 to go. The Flashes would yet again counter with a 19-yard stirke with :44 remaining, forcing overtime. Both teams traded FGs in the first overtime. NIU got the ball to start the second OT and Lynch made sure they would score, jumping over a pile for a 2-yard TD. The Huskie defense bent in the second overtime, allowing Kent State inside the 10-yard line. But they would not break. And on a fourth and eight, from the 9-yard line, Demetrius Stone intercepted Spencer Keith's pass - bringing NIU back-to-back MAC titles and an Orange Bowl birth.
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