NIU beats Golden Flashes 44-37 for MAC Championship

12:14 AM, Dec 1, 2012   |    comments
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DETROIT -- In double overtime, the Northern Illinois Huskies beats the Kent State Golden Flashes 44-37.

The Kent State MAC championship dream ended in Detroit's Ford Field Friday night.

Jordan Lynch rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns while adding a passing score, and Akeem Daniels scored the deciding touchdown in the second overtime as 19th-ranked Northern Illinois captured its second straight MAC Championship with an action-packed 44-37 victory over No. 17 Kent State in the conference title game, spoiling the Golden Flashes' hopes of crashing the BCS party in the process.

Lynch added 212 yards with one interception on 19-of-34 passing in addition to his 36 rushing attempts, with Daniels finishing with 128 yards on 17 totes for Northern Illinois (12-1), which extended its program-record winning streak to 12 games after withstanding a furious fourth-quarter rally from the Golden Flashes.

The loss was costly for Kent State (11-2) -- and the MAC as well. A victory would have given the Golden Flashes a good chance of cracking the top-16 of the BCS standings and thereby automatically qualifying for a berth in one of the major bowls. Kent State entered the game ranked 17th in the latest BCS.

The Huskies will have a harder time earning a place in what would likely be the Orange Bowl, as Northern Illinois was listed 21st in the most recent rankings.

Kent State fought back from a 27-13 fourth-quarter deficit with two touchdowns within an 15-second span, then later forced overtime on Spencer Keith's 19- yard pass to Tim Erjavec with 44 seconds in regulation that tied the score at 34-34.

Keith also had a rushing touchdown for the Golden Flashes, but completed just 15-of-36 throws for 190 yards and was intercepted twice.

Two years ago on Dec. 20, newly hired Kent State coach Darrell Hazell strode to a podium in the school's student center and promised, in so many words, a brand-new era for football at the school.

"I know we can win," he said. Two years later, Hazell has delivered on his promise -- and done so to a level few believed imaginable, given Kent State's woebegone history as the weakest program in major college football.

Kent State is the only program in the Bowl Subdivsion with roots in the 20th century with a winning percentage below .400; the Golden Flashes entered this season at .388, ahead of only Florida International, which christened its program in 2002.

Before this fall, Kent State had one winning season since 1988. It had never won more than nine games in a single season.

Since 1975, it had more double-digit-loss seasons, nine, than six-win seasons, five.

Yet the Golden Flashes headed into Friday's Mid-American Conference championship game against Northern Illinois at 11-1, ranked No. 19 in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll and within striking distance of a Bowl Championship Series berth.

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