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Northern Illinois wins MAC title

NOAH TRISTER
AP Sports Writer

DETROIT (AP) – All Ohio needed was one big play on offense – anything that could help the Bobcats hold off Northern Illinois and win their first Mid-American Conference title in more than four decades.

Matt Weller missed a field goal. Tyler Tettleton threw an interception. Finally, with the game tied, a miscue on a shotgun snap cost Ohio a dozen more yards.

“We had plenty of chances, we just didn’t do enough with them in the second half,” coach Frank Solich said. “All three phases of the game had some kind of collapse in the second half. We didn’t do anything as well as we needed to do.”

In the end, the Bobcats were left helpless when Mathew Sims kicked a 33-yard field goal on the final play to give Northern Illinois a 23-20 victory Friday night in the MAC championship game. Ohio led 20-0 at halftime, but Chandler Harnish and the Huskies rallied when the Bobcats couldn’t put them away.

Tettleton, the son of former major league catcher Mickey Tettleton, went 18 of 31 for 218 yards with three interceptions. He also ran for a touchdown in the second quarter.

With the score 20-7 in the fourth, Weller missed a 36-yard field goal, his first miss of the season from inside 40. Still, Ohio wasn’t in too much trouble until Tettleton’s deep pass over the middle was picked off by Jimmie Ward at the Northern Illinois 37 with 8:49 to play.

Harnish needed only four plays to cut into the lead. He threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Martel Moore to make it 20-13. Sims missed the extra point, but when the Huskies got the ball back, they went 57 yards in six plays, tying it on Harnish’s 22-yard scoring pass to Nathan Palmer with 2:52 remaining.

“We just didn’t get any breaks in the second half, and they kept making one great play after another,” said Ohio linebacker Noah Keller, who had 13 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a half-sack.

With the game suddenly tied, a botched snap cost Ohio 12 yards, and after the Bobcats punted, Northern Illinois took over on its own 36 with 1:18 to play. Perez Ashford leaped backward to make a terrific catch for a 27-yard gain, and Harnish found Moore for 15 yards to the Ohio 19.

After that, it was just a question of lining up Sims for the winning kick.

“I knew I wasn’t going to let my team down twice,” Sims said. “I just lost my focus on the extra point, but I was ready for that field goal.”

Harnish went 16 of 26 for 250 yards and three touchdowns, helping Northern Illinois (10-3) win its eighth straight game. The Huskies overcame four turnovers.

Ohio (9-4) had a five-game winning streak snapped. The Bobcats haven’t won the MAC since 1968.

Bobcats defensive lineman Corey Hasting was ejected early in the third quarter when officials said he threw a punch during a scramble for a Northern Illinois fumble. The Bobcats recovered that ball but couldn’t extend their lead, and Harnish found Palmer for a 39-yard touchdown to make it 20-7.

Tettleton was aggressive at the start, throwing a 44-yard pass to LaVon Brazill on the first snap of the game. The Bobcats didn’t score on that possession – Tettleton was intercepted in the end zone – but they got the ball back in good field position when Harnish’s pass went through the hands of Da’Ron Brown and was intercepted by Noah Keller.

It was Harnish’s first interception in six games, and Weller opened the scoring with a 30-yard field goal.

The Bobcats reached the end zone with a little trickery on their next possession. Ohio ran two reverses on the same drive, but the second turned into a reverse pass when Phil Bates found Donte Foster for a 24-yard touchdown.

Harnish was held to minus-2 yards passing in the first quarter, and his second-quarter fumble ended the Huskies’ only solid drive of the first half. Ohio took advantage, driving 87 yards in nine plays and taking a 20-0 lead when Tettleton dropped back, avoided a possible sack, then ran up the middle through the Northern Illinois defense for an 18-yard touchdown.

But the Bobcats seemed content toward the end of the half, letting Northern Illinois run time off before punting late in the second quarter, then running out the clock themselves.

“All you are likely to do in that situation is turn over the ball,” Solich said. “I was completely satisfied with a 20-0 lead.”