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NIU keeps bid to Orange Bowl in play with MAC title

Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren holds Mid-American Conference championship trophy after his team defeated Kent State 44-37 double overtime FridDetroit.

Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren holds the Mid-American Conference championship trophy after his team defeated Kent State 44-37 in double overtime Frida in Detroit. | Carlos Osorio~AP

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Updated: January 2, 2013 6:13AM

DETROIT — What has long been obvious is indisputable. Northern Illinois rules the Mid-American Conference.

Jordan Lynch scored on a three-yard run as 19th-ranked NIU defeated No. 18 Kent State 44-37 in double overtime in the MAC Championship Game before 18,132 at Ford Field on Friday night.

If a series of events plays out this weekend, NIU could find itself playing in the Orange Bowl, which would not only represent their first BCS bowl game in the program’s history but the first such bowl berth for a MAC team in history.

“I thought we showed the nation what we’re made of today,” Lynch said. “I hope we get to go to a BCS Bowl.”

Demetrius Stone’s interception of Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith in overtime assured the Huskies their second consecutive league title, their 17th straight victory over a conference opponent and keeps alive their hopes of securing a BCS bowl berth.

“You look at the top 16 teams in the BCS, and you aren’t going to find a team that plays as consistently as we do, wins every game they are supposed to win, and plays as well as we do in every phase of the game,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “We got big plays on offense when we needed them tonight, we got big plays on defense, and our kicker made every kick we needed. I don’t know anyone else who brings all of that.”

Close games have been rare for an NIU team that has defeated conference opponents by an average score of 45-15.

It appeared as if the Huskies (12-1 overall, 9-0 MAC) would cruise to another decisive victory before Kent State (11-2, 8-1) scored three touchdowns in the final 4:53 to force overtime.

The Golden Flashes scored 14 points in 15 seconds in the fourth quarter. First, Keith threw a 60-yard pass to Dri Archer before scoring on a five-yard run. Then Lynch fumbled the first snap of the ensuing possession. Linebacker Zack Hitchens returned it 22 yards to knot the score.

“That was a great football game, but it is going to be hard for us to swallow for a few days,” Kent State coach Darrell Hazell said.

Lynch’s responded with a nine-yard scoring run to give the Huskies a seven-point lead with 3:12 left. But Keith calmly led the Golden Flashes down the field. His 19-yard scoring pass to Tim Erjavec tied the score again with 44 seconds left, forcing overtime.

A national TV audience saw Lynch score three touchdowns and rush for 160 yards on 36 carries to break Denard Robinson’s NCAA record of 1,702 rushing yards by a quarterback. Lynch also extended his NCAA record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback to 11.

Lynch completed 19 of 34 passes for 212 yards with one touchdown and one interception to keep his Heisman Trophy candidacy alive, although it’s unlikely he’ll finish in the top three because of NIU’s mid-major status. Entering the game, Lynch ranked third in the nation in total offense, fifth in rushing and 12th in pass efficiency.

“All that stuff is great,” Lynch said of individual accomplishments. “All that stuff is for the banquet. I don’t want to talk about that stuff today. I’m just happy to be with these guys and be MAC champion.”

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