Created: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

NIU football heads to conference rival Kent State

Kent State running back Dri Archer (1) crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the first quarter of the Mid-American Conference Championship against Northern Illinois on Nov. 30 at Ford Field in Detroit. (AP file photo)

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DeKALB – There’s a lot to remember about last season’s Mid-American Conference Championship game.

Northern Illinois football coach Rod Carey, then the offensive coordinator, describes the game as a roller coaster.

Kent State got out to a 10-3 lead before the Huskies responded with 14 second-quarter points. Then there was Kent State forcing overtime with 21 points in the fourth quarter, and NIU kicker Mathew Sims sending the game into double overtime with a 40-yard field goal.

Quarterback Jordan Lynch helped earn the Huskies’ second consecutive MAC title with a game-winning 2-yard touchdown run, and safety Demetrius Stone picked off KSU quarterback Spencer Keith in the end zone to seal the victory.

“We go into overtime, they get the ball, we hold them to a field goal. Then we had to make a long field goal. People don’t remember that kick by Sims, that was a big-time kick,” Carey said. “That’s what I remember about it. I just remember the roller coaster of emotions. I was so tired after that game. It was unbelievable.”

The 2012 MAC title win, which vaulted NIU into the Orange Bowl and could be considered the biggest victory in school history, was the last time the Huskies took on a MAC opponent.

NIU opens conference play Saturday against the same Golden Flashes at Dix Stadium in Kent, Ohio.

But as far as Carey’s concerned, this isn’t any sort of rematch whatsoever.

“Two brand-new teams,” he said. “New venue, new place. Playing with a whole different part of the season upon us.”

And, there’s plenty different about both teams. To start off, both have new head coaches.

Carey was named Dave Doeren’s successor two days after the Huskies beat the Golden Flashes. Kent State alum Paul Haynes, who spent last year as Arkansas’ defensive coordinator, was named his alma mater’s head coach on Dec. 18, 2012, after Darrell Hazell took the Purdue job.

The Golden Flashes, who made their first bowl game since 1972 last year, falling 17-13 to Arkansas State in the Bowl, lost seven starters off a defense which ranked third in the conference in scoring a year ago.

However, there are some similarities as well. Lynch is back as NIU’s quarterback, while Kent State speedster Dri Archer, who has his own Heisman Trophy campaign, returned to the field after last week after an ankle injury.

Despite already playing No. 10 LSU, Penn State and Bowling Green, the Golden Flashes still rank fifth in the MAC in scoring defense (28.8 points a game) and sixth in total defense (428.4 yards a game).

“From what I’ve seeing they’re still the same. They play really well, they play really fast,” NIU tight end Tim Semisch said. “From what I’ve seen on film from this year, they’re a lot like last year.”

Carey said for the most part Kent State’s systems are similar in all three phases of the game. The Flashes have the same offensive coordinator – Brian Rock, and defensive coordinator Brian George was promoted from defensive line coach. Special teams coordinator Dave McMichael is also a holdover from Hazell’s staff.

“There are subtle differences, because they don’t have the exact same players as last year,” Carey said. “Some of the main differences are really small detail things.”

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?