MAC daddies: Northern Illinois rallies to win title game
By Rick Armstrong Sun-Times Media December 2, 2011 11:32PM
Kicker Mathew Sims gets swept up in the excitement after his 33-yard field goal iced the MAC championship for Northern Illinois. | Carlos Osorio~AP
Updated: January 4, 2012 8:10AM
DETROIT — The Huskies just can’t help themselves.
For the second straight year and the third time in seven years, Northern Illinois went to the final minute of the Mid-American Conference Championship game to decide the outcome.
This time, however, it won.
Junior kicker Mathew Sims, atoning for an earlier missed extra-point kick he ‘‘just toed’’ wide right, booted a 33-yard field goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock to give the Huskies a 23-20 win over Ohio University at Ford Field.
‘‘I let my team down, and I couldn’t let it happen twice in a row,’’ said Sims, whose kick capped NIU’s comeback from a 20-0 halftime deficit.
It also gave the Huskies (10-3, 8-1) their first MAC title since 1983.
In the first half, NIU senior quarterback Chandler Harnish looked nothing like the league MVP who led a heralded offense that came in averaging 488 yards per game.
‘‘I played so terribly in the first half. I was trying to do too much,” Harnish said. ‘‘The coaches sat me down and stressed, ‘Rewind, re-record.’ ’’
It was like night and day, even though NIU would turn the ball over for a fourth time on its first possession of the second half.
In the opening 30 minutes, the Huskies had three turnovers in six possessions, didn’t record a first down until their third drive, had just 92 yards of total offense to the Bobcats’ 302 and were down 2-to-1 in time of possession.
Harnish, who was 3-for-7 for 35 yards passing in the first half, completed 13 of 19 passes for 215 yards and threw touchdown passes of 39 and 22 yards to game MVP Nathan Palmer (4-115) and one of 32 yards to Martel Moore to tie it 20-20 with 2:52 left.
‘‘There was no flinch,’’ NIU coach Dave Doeren said. ‘‘That’s why we came back. We just didn’t play well in the first half, and we weren’t who we were. At halftime, I knew if our offense just started playing, we’d be in the game tonight.’’
Ohio, despite two interceptions by sophomore quarterback Tyler Tettleton, had built its lead on 30- and 21-yard field goals by Matt Weller, a 24-yard scoring pass from Phil Bates to Donte Foster on a trick play and Tettleton’s 18-yard run.
“We knew Northern was a streaky team that was capable of giving up 14-17 points and then coming right back and scoring 14-20 points,’’ Ohio senior linebacker Noah Keller said. ‘‘It’s difficult to take.’’