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MAC Championship Game History, Part IV: Huskies Dominate

Today, we feature the final installment of our four-part series about the history of the MAC Championship Game. This edition looks back at the last four years and includes the end of the LeFevour Era as well as the current NIU dynasty.

Dave Reginek

After years and years of watching Marshall dominate the MAC Championship Game and then seeing a bunch of other teams rise from the ashes to complete their dreams of #MACtion glory, Northern Illinois was getting a little jealous. So, a couple of guys named Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch decided to do something about it.

What followed (and continues today) is HUSKIE DOMINANCE...

Year 13 -- 2009

After taking a year off, the Dan LeFevour freight train ran its way through the MAC once again in 2009. LeFevour led CMU to a 10-2 regular season that included a road victory over Michigan State. The Chippewas won a road game at Western Michigan 34-23 in October and were never seriously challenged after that. When they defeated Northern Illinois 45-31 at home on the final day of the season, CMU clinched a perfect 8-0 conference record and won the West by 3 games over NIU.

The Eastern Division was a three-team race between Ohio, Temple and Bowling Green. The Bobcats held an early edge after beating BGSU in a thrilling 44-37 game at Bowling Green on October 3rd. However, Temple took control over the division when Ohio lost later to Kent State and BGSU fell to the LeFevour train. On the season's final day, Temple traveled to Ohio's Peden Stadium with a 7-0 MAC recorrd. Ohio was 6-1. When Ohio emerged with a 35-17 victory, the two were tied for the East title at 7-1, but Ohio went to the championship game thanks to the tiebreaker, thereby denying Temple their best chance at a MAC title.

1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q TOT
Ohio 7 0 3 0 10
Central Michigan
10 7 3 0 20

The rematch of the 2006 MAC Championship Game turned out to be the lowest scoring title game in MAC history. The teams combined for just 30 points, only six of which were scored in the second half. Neither team scored a touchdown in the second half or a single point in the fourth quarter.

Dan LeFevour capped his career in the first quarter by setting an NCAA record with his 147th career touchdown combined between passing, rushing and receiving. The 14-yard pass to Cody Wilson with 5:22 left in the first quarter gave CMU a 7-0 lead. Four minutes later, Andrew Aguila gave the Chippewas a 10-0 lead with a 25-yard field goal.

Ohio cut the lead to just three with a touchdown at the very end of the quarter. Taylor Price threw a 29-yard pass to Terrence McCrae for Ohio's first score of the game.

In the second quarter, LeFevour led CMU to another touchdown that pushed the lead back to ten points. The eight-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Anderson was the 101st scoring pass of LeFevour's career, and that broke the MAC record previously held by Marshall's Chad Pennington. Aguila kicked another field goal shortly after halftime to give the Chippewas a 20-7 advantage.

The Bobcats could not get anything going after their first quarter touchdown drive. They did manage a field goal in the third quarter but could find no offense outside of that, and CMU won 20-10.

LeFevor passed for 255 yards and CMU's only two touchdowns. He also ran for 51 yards. The Chippewa defense held Ohio to just 275 total yards.

Central Michigan was rewarded for their MAC championship with their first trip to the GMAC Bowl. There, they defeated Troy 44-41 in double-overtime and became the first MAC team to win that game since Toledo in 2005. Ohio's consolation prize was a return trip to Detroit for the newly-rechristened Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. In that game, they had the inglorious fortune of being the first MAC team to face Marshall in a bowl since Marshall departed the MAC after the 2004 season. Ohio lost to the Herd, 21-17.

Three other MAC teams went bowling after the 2009 season, and each lost. Bowling Green lost a 43-42 thriller in the Humanitarian Bowl in the final seconds, while Temple fell 30-21 against UCLA in the EagleBank Bowl. Northern Illinois lost to South Florida, 27-3, in the International Bowl.

Year 14 -- 2010

Thus begins the Northern Illinois reign over the MAC. Led by Chandler Harnish, NIU went 10-2 during the 2010 regular season with losses only at Iowa State and at Illinois. The Huskies survived a 28-21 scare at Western Michigan on October 30th in what would be their only close MAC game of the season. They crushed Toledo in their next game, 65-30 in DeKalb to effectively win the division. The loss was Toledo's only one of the conference season. NIU finished with 59-21 and 71-3 wins to seal an 8-0 record in the MAC and the Western Division title.

Their opponents in the MAC title game would be an unexpected bunch -- the Miami RedHawks. Miami started 3-3 after big losses to Florida, Missouri and Cincinnati, then lost 34-13 at home to Ohio in late October. That loss appeared to seal their fate in the division, a fact that was hammered home two weeks later when Miami lost starting quarterback Zac Dysert for the season against Bowling Green. Freshman Austin Boucher came in and led a comeback 24-21 win in that game, but could he keep winning?

Yes, yes he could. Boucher led Miami to wins over Akron and Temple to give the RedHawks a 7-1 record in the MAC. When Ohio then lost to Kent State on November 26th, it became OU's second league loss of the season, and that handed the East title and a trip to Detroit over to Boucher and the RedHawks.

1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q TOT
Northern Illinois
0 0 7 21
13 0 7 6 26

The 14th edition of the MAC Championship Game featured a stirring first quarter, very little action in the middle, and then a thrilling ending that produced a huge upset.

After NIU opened the game with a punt, the two teams exchanged touchdowns on the next four drives. Miami began with an eight-play, 80-yard march that was capped by a one-yard Thomas Merriweather run and a 6-0 lead (the extra point was blocked). The Huskies answered quickly, in just three plays, as Chandler Harnish connected on a 69-yard pass to Martel Moore for a 7-6 lead. However, Miami marched right back downfield. The six-play, 77-yard drive ended with a seven-yard run by Tracy Woods. Undaunted, NIU scored again just six plays later. Moore caught another long pass from Harnish, this time 27 yards, with 1:17 left in the first quarter.

The Huskies held that 14-13 lead for the rest of the first half, thanks in part to a missed Trevor Cook field goal. Miami trailed but had left four points on the field in the first 30 minutes.

Miami shook off that disappointment and drove 82 yards in ten plays to open the second half. The drive, which lasted 5:08, was completed with another one-yard run by Merriweather for a 20-14 lead. That lead stayed true until the first play of the fourth quarter, when Willie Clark caught a 39-yard touchdown strike from Harnish.

NIU maintained that edge until they went three-and-out from their own three yard line with 2:48 left in the game. The Huskies' punt was downed at the Miami 48. From there, Miami went just 19 yards over the next two minutes. With just over 30 seconds left in the game, Austin Boucher took the ball from the 33 and threw deep to Armand Robinson, who caught the ball for the game-winning touchdown with 33 seconds left. NIU tried valiantly to answer, but the clock ran out before they could score. With that, Miami won their first MAC title since the 2003 Ben Roethlisberger team.

The Austin Boucher tour continued for Miami in the RedHawks' bowl game. Miami traveled to Mobile for the (formerly GMAC) Bowl and defeated Middle Tennessee State 35-21. The RedHawks became the first team in college football history to lose ten or more games in one season and win ten or more games in the following season. MAC runner-up Northern Illinois went to Boise and took out their frustrations on Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl by a count of 40-17. Meanwhile, Toledo fell to Florida International, 34-32, in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, and Ohio lost the New Orleans Bowl 46-21 versus Troy.

Year 15 -- 2011

The dominance of Northern Illinois continued in 2011 but only after an embarrassing loss in their first conference game of the season. The Huskies, still led by Chandler Harnish, lost their conference opener at Central Michigan 48-41, and the loss dropped NIU to a 2-3 record. CMU went on to finish 3-9 overall and won just one other MAC game that season. One has to wonder if that didn't set the Huskies off -- they haven't lost a MAC game since that day and have lost only two of their 35 total games since that trip to Mount Pleasant.

NIU finished the regular season with a 7-1 mark in conference play. The Huskies were tied with Toledo but won the tiebreaker (and the division) thanks to their 63-60 win at the Glass Bowl on November 1st in what was one of the wildest games in college football history.

In the East, it looked like Temple again might win the division, especially after Ohio lost two of their first three MAC games. However, Temple lost 35-31 in another doomed trip to Peden Stadium, and that propelled Ohio to wins in their final five MAC games. The win was also the winning margin in the division, as Ohio's 6-2 record outlasted Temple's 5-3 mark.

1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q TOT
Ohio 10 10 0 0 20
Northern Illinois
0 0 7 16 23

After their loss in 2010, the Northern Illinois Huskies were now 0-2 in MAC Championship Game appearances. If the Huskies and Chandler Harnish thought that Ohio would help them finally "win the big one", they were sorely mistaken. Ohio was also 0-2 in the MAC's penultimate game and sought to end years of frustration.

In the first half, it looked like Ohio would finally see their dreams come to fruition. After Tyler Tettleton and Chandler Harnish were each intercepted on their team's first drive, Tettleton settled down to lead Ohio on three consecutive scoring marches.

Ohio turned the Harnish interception into a 30-yard field goal by Matt Weller to open scoring. After an NIU punt, Ohio used tricky tactics to score the game's first touchdown. Backup quarterback Phil Bates lined up at wide receiver on the play. Tettleton took the snap and flipped the ball to LaVon Brazill. Brazill handed off on a reverse to Bates, who then passed to Donte Foster for a 24-yard touchdown. NIU then punted again, and Weller added a field goal from 21 yards out early in the second quarter for a 13-0 lead.

The two teams exchanged turnovers again, including another interception by Tettleton. Ohio's defense forced another punt, though, and Tettleton led an 87-yard drive that he finished with an 18-yard run for a 20-0 lead that the Bobcats carried into halftime.

The second half started poorly for NIU, as they lost another fumble. However, their defense begain to hold, and on their second drive, the Huskies broke through. Nathan Palmer caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Harnish to cap a 78-yard drive.

Up 20-7, Ohio had opportunities to put the game away, but they missed a field goal early in the fourth quarter, then Tettleton threw a third interception on the next drive. Following the pick, NIU tied the game with back-to-back touchdown passes. Martel Moore caught the first from 32 yards out with 7:36 left, then five minutes later, Palmer caught a 22-yard pass for his second touchdown of the game. NIU missed the extra point after the Moore touchdown but still managed to tie the game at 20.

Following the Palmer touchdown, Ohio went three-and-out and NIU took over at their own 36 with just 1:18 remaining. Harnish led the Huskies to the Ohio 16 in just five plays, and Mathew Sims trotted onto the field for the final play. His 33-yard attempt was up and....GOOD! Northern Illinois won their first MAC championship in 28 years! The 20-point comeback was the largest in the MAC title game since 1999.

Northern Illinois went on to trounce Arkansas State 38-20 in the Bowl to finish their successful season. Ohio became the second consecutive MAC runner-up to travel to Boise for their bowl game, and the Bobcats won what was now known as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, as they defeated Utah State 24-23.

Somehow, the Temple Owls won a bowl game in their final game as a member of the MAC by defeating Wyoming 37-15 in the New Mexico Bowl. They were joined in sweet bowl victory by Toledo, who squeaked by Air Force 42-41 in the Military Bowl. Of the MAC's five bowl teams in 2011, only Western Michigan lost. The Broncos fell in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl to Purdue, 37-32.

Year 16 -- 2012

Prior to the 2012 season, Temple left the MAC to return to the Big East (otherwise known as the league that had previously kicked Temple out for being so terrible), and the Owls were replaced by Massachusetts. This doesn't really have any bearing on the MAC Championship Game -- just reporting fact here.

For one of the few times since divisional play began, the MAC was relatively barren of intrigue in 2012. Kent State and Northern Illinois dominated the league as no other pair of teams had previously and, in the process, became the first pair of teams with unblemished MAC records to meet in the championship game.

Outside of close wins each earned over Ball State early in the season, neither team was seriously challenged in the MAC until the middle of November. On November 14th, Northern Illinois defeated Toledo 31-24 in DeKalb. Three days later, Kent State won a wild back-and-forth game at Bowling Green by the same score. The wins clinched title game berths for both teams, setting up an enticing match-up of two BCS hopefuls.

1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q OT1 OT2 TOT
Northern Illinois 3 14 10 7 3 7 44
Kent State 10 0 3 21 3 0 37

Two ranked teams. Two undefeated MAC records. Two shots at the Bowl Championship Series. To say that the 2012 MAC Championship Game was important would be an understatement. When the Kent State Golden Flashes and Northern Illinois Huskies met in Detroit, more was on the line that at any time in MAC Championship Game history. So, it was only fitting that this would turn out to be the first overtime game in the 16-year history of the game.

Both teams struggled on offense early in the first quarter and punted on each of their first two possessions. However, on Kent State's second punt, NIU's Angelo Sebastiano was hit by Darius Polk, who forced a fumble. Polk recovered for the Flashes at the NIU 22. Three plays later, Dri Archer scored a 15-yard touchdown for the game's first score. The Huskies were forced to punt again, and Ryan Neir shanked it for just 18 yards. Kent State used the gift to position for a 37-yard Freddy Cortez field goal and a 10-0 lead. NIU finally got going on offense after that, and with 0:14 left in the first quarter, a Mathew Sims field goal got the Huskies on the board.

Down 10-3, Northern Illinois dominated the next two quarters. When Kent State had to punt on the next drive, Sebastiano redeemed himself with a 30-yard return to give NIU a short field. Jordan Lynch made it count, leading the Huskies to a tying touchdown on a 14-yard pass to Martel Moore. It was Moore's third consecutive MAC Championship Game with a touchdown reception. NIU's Dechane Durante intercepted Spencer Keith on the next possession, and the Huskies again had a short field. In 12 plays, Lynch took NIU to the lead when Akeem Daniels rushed for a one-yard score and a 17-10 edge.

NIU threatened to extend the lead before halftime, but a Lynch pass was intercepted by Leon Green at the Kent State 3. After the half, Kent State closed the gap to 17-13 on a Freddy Cortez field goal. Northern Illinois answered with ten points. Lynch scored a one-yard touchdown run to close a 10-play drive, then following a Flashes' three-and-out, Mathew Sims increased NIU's lead to 27-13 with a 29-yard field goal.

Early in the fourth quarter, KSU failed on a 4th down play, and the Huskies took over at their own 6. NIU drove 58 yards but had to punt, and Kent State took over at their own 4 down by two touchdowns and with just half the fourth quarter remaining. Spencer Keith led the Flashes on a 96-yard drive in eight plays, led primarily by a 60-yard pass to Dri Archer. Keith finished the march with a five-yard touchdown run to cut the NIU lead to 27-20. After the kickoff, Lynch fumbled on the first play from scrimmage for NIU. Zack Hitchens recovered for Kent State, and he returned it 22 yards for the game-tying touchdown.

Just 4:38 remained on the clock, but the game was nowhere near being over. Daniels ran for 23 yards and caught a 43-yard pass from Lynch on the first three plays of NIU's next possession. Then, from the Kent State 9, Lynch ran it in himself to put NIU back out front, 34-27. Of course, Kent State answered. Keith led an 11-play drive during which KSU converted three different third downs. The final conversion was on 3rd-and-7 from the NIU 19, and on that play, Keith threw a touchdown pass to Tim Erjavec with just 44 seconds left on the clock. NIU ran out the clock from there to send the game to overtime, tied at 34.

The teams exchanged field goals in the first overtime to keep the game tied at 37. In the second frame, NIU was on offense first. Daniels ran for 23 yards on the first play, and Lynch followed that with a two-yard scoring run for a 44-37 lead. Kent State had to score a touchdown and extra point to send the game to a third OT. On 4th-and-8 from the NIU 9, Keith threw into the end zone and was intercepted by Demetrius Stone. The turnover ended the game and gave NIU a second straight MAC championship with a 44-37 win.

Despite the close score, NIU dominated on the stat sheet. The Huskies outgained the Flashes 524-260. They held Archer to 96 all-purpose yards. Jordan Lynch, on the other hand, had 372 yards of total offense including 160 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 36 carries.

Prior to the 2001 season, the MAC had never sent more than one team to a bowl game. Prior to 2004, they had never sent more than two. By 2011, four or five bowl teams from the MAC were a regular occurrence, but that paled in comparison to that the conference accomplished in 2012.

Northern Illinois' win vaulted the Huskies into an automatic berth to the Bowl Championship Series and a spot in the 2013 Orange Bowl. NIU may have lost to Florida State, but the exposure gained by the MAC was priceless. The inclusion in the BCS also helped place all seven bowl eligible teams into games. As rummer-up, Kent State went to play Arkansas State in the Bowl, where they fell in a very intense 17-13 game.

Of the other five teams, two managed to win. Central Michigan was one of the primary beneficiaries of NIU's trip to the BCS, and the 6-6 Chippewas made the chance count by winning the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl 24-21 over Western Kentucky. Ohio went to the Independence Bowl, where the Bobcats thoroughly trounced Louisiana-Monroe 45-14. Meanwhile, Bowling Green lost the Military Bowl 29-20 to San Jose State, Toledo fell in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 41-15 to Utah State, and Ball State was handled 38-17 by former MAC member Central Florida in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.


What will the 17th annual MAC Championship Game add to the not-so-long-but-still-storied history of the event? Only time will tell, but if history is any indication, tonight's game should be another epic battle.

Later today, we'll take the 16 games that we've featured over the last four days and rank them all, from worst to first. Which game is our choice for best-ever? Once it's revealed, let us know what you think about our list -- or even make your own!