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Northern Illinois pulls out 2 OT win in MAC title game

The SportsXchange

DETROIT -- Northern Illinois wanted to avoid a repeat of its last three trips to Ford Field.

Playing in their fourth Mid-American Conference Championship game since 2005, the Huskies had to wait each time until the final seconds for the game-winning points, including winning last year's contest decided on a field goal by NIU kicker Mathew Sims on the last play of the game against Ohio.

Once again, the Huskies couldn't avoid another late-game dramatic ending this year. Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch overcome a sluggish start to rush for three touchdowns and pass for another to lead the No. 19 Huskies to a 44-37 double-overtime win over No. 18 Kent State on Friday night.

"It feels great to come back here and win it again," Lynch said. "It's hard to repeat, and our seniors carried us today."

Lynch played like a Heisman Trophy candidate by lifting the Huskies (12-1) to their 12th consecutive victory despite a slow start. Lynch rallied the Huskies after losing a late fourth-quarter fumble that helped the Golden Flashes score 14 points in 15 seconds to tie the game at 27-27.

Lynch capped a 4-play, 75-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run with 3:12 left in regulation. Lynch closed out a stunning comeback with a 2-yard touchdown in the second overtime for the game-winner.

Sims sent the game into a second overtime by drilling a 40-yard field goal. Demetrius Stone sealed the victory by picking off Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith's pass in the end zone.

"I've kicked that a million times," Sims said of his first overtime field goal. "We had to do it the hard way. That's how Northern Illinois does it."

Lynch, who became the all-time single-season rushing quarterback in FBS history, finished with 160 yards rushing and 212 yards passing. He didn't shy away from mentioning NIU's slim chances for a BCS bowl and the possibility of earning one of the four invitations to next week's Heisman Trophy ceremony.

"We want to go to a BCS bowl," Lynch said. "I hope I get invited to New York."

Starting in his first MAC title game, Lynch guided the Huskies to their school-record 12th victory by torching the highly ranked Kent State defense with a blend of hard-running and precision passing.

"Jordan played another great game," said NIU coach Dave Doeren. "He was too fired up at the start. What more can you can say about him. This has been a great season so far."

The Golden Flashes (11-2) watched their dreams of a BCS bowl game go up in smoke despite seizing a 10-0 lead. Kent State's offense never could get on track all game, with Dri Archer netting just 15 rushing yards and one touchdown and catching five passes for 81 yards. The Golden Flashes lost for the sixth consecutive time to the Huskies because of their inability to extend drives and run the ball.

Kent State had 83 total plays, but finished with 260 yards compared to 94 plays and 524 yards for the Huskies. Akeem Daniels had another big game for the Huskies, rushing for 128 yards and scoring one touchdown.

"I was happy with how we started, but we couldn't make the key stop," said Kent State coach Darrell Hazell. "Give credit to them. They made the keys plays when it counted."

Kent State scored its first touchdown early in the first quarter following an NIU turnover, but failed to score another touchdown until Spencer Keith's 5-yard run with 4:53 left that cut NIU's lead down to 27-20.

The Golden Flashes tied the game after Lynch's fumbled on the ensuing drive, leading to a 22-yard touchdown return by Zack Hitchens with 4:38 left to tie the game at 27-27.

Keith sent the game into overtime with a 19-yard scoring pass to Tim Erjavec with 44 seconds left. Cortez made the third of his field goals to open the overtime period, with Sims drilling his second field goal to force a second overtime.

"We just made one more play than they did," Doeren said. "

NOTES: Representatives from the Orange and Sugar Bowls -- both BCS bowls -- attended the game, as well as officials from the Little Caesar's Bowl, GoDaddy.com Bowl and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. ... The Mid-American Conference is seeking to trademark the Twitter hash tag #MACtion. The term became popular on Twitter after several high-scoring games late in the season. MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said that T-shirts are already being made. ... This is first NIU team in school history to win 11 games in the regular season. ... NIU and Oregon are the only two schools in the nation to win 11 or more games in each of the last three seasons. ... Lynch became the sixth MAC MVP for the Huskies in the last seven years, and second quarterback in a row after Chandler Harnish earned the honor last year. ... No FBS team has made a bigger improvement in the win column from last year than Kent State. ... Kent State second-year coach Darrell Hazell was named the 2012 MAC Coach of the Year on Wednesday. ... For the first time since 2003, two ranked teams met in the MAC title contest. Both teams went undefeated in conference play. ... Kent State is the first East Division team to go undefeated in MAC play since Miami in 2003. ... If the Huskies finish 16th or higher in Sunday's BCS standings, they earns a trip to a BCS Bowl (Rose, Sugar, Orange or Fiesta). ... Kent State and NIU are among five FBS teams to have won 15 of their last 17 games coming into Friday's game.
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