for this game

NIU wins MAC title game on last-second FG

Dec 3, 2011 - 6:13 AM Detroit, MI (Sports Network) - This time, Northern Illinois delivered the crushing blow instead of taking it.

Mathew Sims kicked a 33-yard field goal as time expired Friday night, capping a stunning second half comeback and lifting Northern Illinois to a 23-20 win over Ohio for the Mid-American Conference Championship.

The Huskies (10-3) won the MAC title game for the first time despite trailing 20-0 at halftime.

Sims' kick, which followed two Ohio timeouts and came minutes after he missed an extra point, sailed just inside the left upright.

"I knew he was going to make it," said Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren. "When he came off I could tell he was mad about the extra point. I said, 'Don't worry about it. You'll get a chance to make up for it.'"

The field goal was set up by four plays that gained 48 yards, including Perez Ashford's leaping 27-yard catch at the left sideline with a defender all over him.

Northern Illinois overcame the memory of last year's MAC title game, which it lost in a heartbreaker when Miami-Ohio converted a 4th-and-20 on a deflected pass and scored a touchdown with 33 seconds left for the win.

The Huskies won their eighth straight game and captured their first MAC title since 1983. The conference championship game wasn't played until 1997.

Ohio (9-4) appeared in its third conference championship game in the last six years, but has yet to win. The Bobcats gave up 23 unanswered points and failed to ice the game twice in the fourth quarter, punting two times in the last five minutes. They had a five-game winning streak snapped.

"We just put ourselves in position to not make plays like we were making in the first half," said Ohio coach Frank Solich. "It was a combination of them playing good football and us not playing good football."

Safety Nathan Carpenter did all he could to break up Chandler Harnish's pass to a well-covered Ashford in the final minutes, getting a hand on the ball as both players fell to the ground.

But Ashford kept possession and came down in bounds on a play that was challenged by Ohio but upheld. Afterward, Ashford said Doeren stressed at the beginning of the season the importance of getting over last season's loss to Miami-Ohio.

"Last year's over, and that's how we went about it," said Ashford.

Harnish passed for 250 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Two of his TD passes came in the fourth quarter, but he also fumbled once as the MAC West champions had trouble getting out of their own way for 2 1/2 quarters. Nathan Palmer had four catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

Tyler Tettleton threw for 218 yards and rushed for a touchdown for Ohio, but was also intercepted three times. Backup Phil Bates threw a touchdown pass on a trick play in the first half.

Ohio was unable to capitalize on a long drive down to the Northern Illinois 19 that bled into the fourth quarter when Matt Weller missed a 36-yard field goal try wide right.

Tettleton was picked off on Ohio's next possession, and the Huskies turned it into a touchdown when Harnish found Martel Moore behind two defenders on the left side for a 32-yard touchdown pass.

Sims missed the extra point try wide right, so the Huskies only pulled within 20-13.

Following a 12-yard punt by Ohio, Harnish hit Palmer in the back of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown. Sims' extra point was good to tie the game.

Ohio then went three-and-out, setting up the Huskies' game-winning drive.

Earlier, Ohio converted two Northern Illinois turnovers into 10 first half points and scored another seven on a gadget reverse play. The teams traded interceptions on the first two possessions and the MAC East champions took a 3-0 lead on Weller's 30-yard field goal.

Later in the first, Bates lined up wide and took a pitch from Tettleton before delivering a 24-yard touchdown pass to Donte Foster to make it 10-0.

After Weller kicked a 21-yard field goal early in the second, NIU fumbled the kickoff. The Huskies got the ball back soon after that on an interception, but gave it back when Harnish fumbled on a sack.

Tettleton then broke off an 18-yard touchdown run for a 20-0 Ohio lead heading into halftime.

Northern Illinois survived another turnover (a fumble) to start the second half, then scored its first points later in the third quarter when Palmer spun out of two tackles and dove to complete a 39-yard touchdown catch.

The play was reviewed -- Palmer's reach just made it to the goal line -- and upheld.

"You have to give them a great deal of credit for coming back in the second half," said Solich. "We had plenty of chances, we just did not play well enough to make them work for us."