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RedHawks take MAC title after crazy finish

Dec 4, 2010 - 5:46 AM Detroit, MI (Sports Network) - A crazy 4th-and-20 conversion led to Armand Robinson's 33-yard touchdown catch with 33 seconds remaining, as the Miami- Ohio RedHawks snuck past the 24th-ranked Northern Illinois Huskies, 26-21, in the Mid-American Conference Championship game at Ford Field.

Trailing by one, 21-20, the RedHawks (9-4) took over at their own 48 with 2:48 left. Two incomplete passes and a sack set up a 4th-and-20. Austin Boucher's pass hit off the hands of a Northern Illinois defender and fell into the hands of Miami-Ohio wide receiver Chris Givens for a 31-yard gain. Two plays later, Boucher received heavy pressure, but was able to hit a wide open Robinson over the middle, and Robinson sprinted into the end zone for the go- ahead score. The score stood at 26-21 after the two-point conversion failed.

"We were in a blitz situation and we had a guy not get over the top where he needed to be," Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill said. "Those things happen sometimes, but we certainly wish it wouldn't have."

The Huskies (10-3) got the ball to the RedHawks' 32, but Chandler Harnish was tripped up as time expired to give Miami-Ohio its first MAC championship title since 2003.

Boucher completed 29-of-46 passes for 333 yards for the RedHawks, who registered their most wins since a 13-1 record in '03. Robinson, who tied a school record with 14 catches, racked up 176 receiving yards.

"What an outstanding accomplishment by these young men to overcome to adversity in which they were involved from going 1-11 to being 9-4 and winning a MAC Championship," RedHawks head coach Mike Haywood said. "I'm so happy for them and all the adversity they have overcome and all the hard work they have done."

Thomas Merriweather carried the ball 11 times for 85 yards and two scores for Miami-Ohio, which has won five in a row. The RedHawks ended the regular season with a 7-1 mark in conference play.

Harnish connected on 15-of-28 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns for the Huskies, who had won nine in a row and finished the regular season with a perfect 8-0 mark in league action.

Martel Moore hauled in four passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns for Northern Illinois, which was trying to win its first MAC championship crown since 1983. Willie Clark hauled in four passes for 70 yards and a score.

"We're 10-3, and you don't win 10 games not doing a good job," Kill said. "The kids have gotten better and better and they've been very coachable. We'll bounce back. They'll go back to work and learn. This hurts, and it should hurt. That's part of life - you don't win all the time. This is when you find out who you are."

Trailing by six, 20-14, Northern Illinois started a drive from its own 11 with 4:46 left in the third. Faced with a 3rd-and-5, Landon Cox caught a 10-yard pass for a fresh set of downs. Clark hauled in a 12-yard pass moments later during another 3rd-and-5 situation. Jason Schepler then caught a 13-yard pass to set up the Huskies at the 39 of the RedHawks. On the first play of the fourth period, Harnish took a snap from the shotgun and pretended to run before launching a pass into the end zone for Clark. The extra point gave Northern Illinois a 21-20 edge.

Each team scored a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter. The RedHawks' first play from scrimmage resulted in a 47-yard run by Merriweather, who capped an eight-play march with a one-yard TD run. The extra point was blocked.

Northern Illinois responded with a touchdown of its own just three plays later. Harnish and Moore hooked up for a 69-yard score to make it a 7-6 game.

Miami-Ohio kept the scoring going on its next drive. Merriweather's 25-yard run set up the RedHawks at the 31, and Tracy Woods scampered into the end zone from seven yards out for a 13-7 edge.

Moore's second touchdown of the game put the Huskies back on top. Nathan Palmer's 24-yard catch helped set up Moore's 27-yard TD grab for a 14-13 margin with 1:17 left in the first quarter.

A scoreless second stanza ended with Northern Illinois blocking Trevor Cook's 42-yard field goal attempt.

The RedHawks got the ball to start the second half and put together a 10-play, 82-yard drive. Woods made a 33-yard catch before Robinson hauled in passes of six and 25 yards. That put Miami-Ohio at the one-yard line, and Merriweather rumbled into the end zone to make it a 20-14 contest.

Moore fumbled the football near midfield on the ensuing Northern Illinois possession. Faced with a 4th-and-goal from the five, Miami-Ohio set up for a field goal. RedHawks holder Mike Scherpenberg received the snap and took off with the football. The Huskies stopped Scherpenberg short of the goal line.

Game Notes

The RedHawks lead the all-time series with the Huskies, 8-7. Northern Illinois had won the last five matchups...The Huskies are ranked in the AP Poll for the first time since November 9, 2003...Northern Illinois was trying to become the first team in school history to win 11 games in a single season...This was Miami-Ohio's first appearance in the title game since 2007 and its fourth in the last eight years.