DETROIT – Northern Illinois came into Friday’s MAC Championship game as a 17 ½ point favorite.
The Huskies had rolled through the MAC during the regular season, steamrolling their opponents and putting up record offensive numbers.
Miami (Ohio) snuck into the game thanks to a Kent State upset over Ohio on Nov. 26.
Throughout the game, it seemed like NIU, who came in to the game ranked No. 24 in the nation, played like it had everything to lose. Miami, meanwhile, seemed like it was playing with house money.
The RedHawks played mistake-free football all game, while the Huskies had a number of plays that will haunt them in the coming weeks in a 26-21 Miami win.
“You can look at everything. It was a team effort,” Miami quarterback Austin Boucher said. “The defense had to step up and make plays, so did the offense. “
Boucher and the rest of the RedHawks offense didn’t commit a turnover all game, and only had one penalty the all night, a Mike Johns offside in the third quarter.
“All I had to do was just be a quarterback,” Boucher said. “Keep the composure and manage the game.
NIU, meanwhile, had a number of chances that the Huskies didn’t take advantage of. Nathan Palmer dropped a sure touchdown pass in the second quarter. Later in the half, NIU had another missed opportunity with backup quarterback Jordan Lynch in the game.
Lynch, who had only four passing attempts coming into the game, dropped back as Huskies coach Jerry Kill attempted to catch the RedHawks off guard. But Lynch underthrew Willie Clark on what looked like another touchdown pass.
“Jordan came up short on one and we dropped one in the end zone,” Kill said. “That’s 14 points. Like I said that’s two plays right there. It comes down to seven or eight plays.”
The only mistake Miami made on the field was on a Trevor Cook extra point attempt after the RedHawks first touchdown drive, as Cook’s kick was blocked by Mike Krause.
Haywood also tried a fake field goal on fourth-and-goal from the NIU five-yard line, and holder Mike Scherpenberg was stopped short by Tyrone Clark. Other than that, Miami played sound football all night at Ford Field.
Miami held MAC MVP Chad Spann to just 57 yards rushing, while the RedHawks red-hot back, Thomas Merriweather, ran for 90 yards on just 11 carries.
And it was the RedHawks that made the biggest play of the game, the biggest play of their season, in Boucher’s pass to Chris Givens on fourth-and-20 in the final minute of the game.
“We knew we would get their best effort. They stopped the run a little bit better than I thought they would,” NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish said. “We had some success in the passing game, but like coach said we just didn’t make enough big plays.”