Created:Friday, December 3, 2010 11:53 p.m.CST
Updated:Saturday, December 4, 2010 12:18 a.m.CST
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VIEWS: Huskies burned by the blitz

By JOHN SAHLY - jsahly@daily-chronicle.com

DETROIT – Armand Robinson hauled in 13 catches before the one that puts him forever on Miami's highlight tape.

That fact wasn't lost on Northern Illinois.

But with NIU's zone blitz working consistently in the second half of Friday's Mid-American Conference Championship game and the RedHawks within field goal range and down one, the Huskies dialed up another zone blitz.

"Whether it's right, wrong or whatever, I've always had a philosophy that if a field goal will beat you, and they get around the 30-yard line, you've got to be extremely aggressive with it and take your chances rather than just let them sit back and run the clock down and run on to kick it," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said.

Where the Huskies faltered in one of several plays in the final minutes that they couldn't execute on, was exactly what Robinson, Miami quarterback Austin Boucher and the rest of Ford Field saw just after the snap.

NIU's outside and middle linebackers blitzed with no one coming over the top to help in time.

Hello, heartbreak – a 26-21 loss for the 24th-ranked Huskies.

"Whatever it was, communication or whatever, we didn't roll the right direction on the blitz and [Boucher] hit it," Claeys said.

It's a play that will be replayed over and over again in MAC title games for a long time, right next to the 4th-and-20 tip drill from Boucher to Tyrone Clark to fate to Chris Givens for 31 yards and a first down and Domenik Hixon's 2005 MAC championship grab.

The mere fact that Hixon's name is mentioned Friday has to turn the stomachs of NIU fans, especially considering the expectations for this one.

Friday was billed not so much as a game as it was a coronation. The Huskies entered ranked in the top 25 – how many exact votes NIU lost in that last minute will be interesting to watch – while Miami was thrilled to even be there. NIU's offense played past ridiculous and into the surreal over the previous month. The RedHawks made them look human.

"They kind of beat us the way we beat people," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "They didn't make a lot of mistakes. They didn't turn the ball over and they ran the ball well. We kind of got a little bit of our own medicine."

And for those NIU fans still left waiting for that first MAC title since 1983, that medicine has a hard time going down a little more each time.

Even 30 minutes after the postgame celebration, Robinson sat in the postgame news conference with a wide-eyed look, still unable to comprehend what his catch meant for Miami and for the Huskies.

"It's an unbelievable play," Robinson said. "I still can't believe it happened."

• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at jsahly@daily-chronicle.com.

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