Huskies trailed 20-0, but won first MAC title since 1983.
Northern Illinois wide receiver Nathan Palmer (81) looks back to the referee as he scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Ohio in Detroit, Friday. Palmer scored two touchdowns in the Huskies' 23-20 win over Ohio.
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DETROIT -- Mathew Sims kicked a 33-yard field goal on the final play to cap a furious comeback that gave Northern Illinois a 23-20 victory over Ohio in the Mid-American Conference title game Friday night.
The Huskies (10-3) trailed 20-0 after an abysmal first half before rallying behind quarterback Chandler Harnish. It was a delightful turnabout for Northern Illinois, which lost in the 2010 and 2005 MAC title games on last-minute touchdowns by Miami and Akron.
Northern Illinois won its first MAC title since 1983.
Ohio (9-4) led 20-7 in the fourth quarter, but Harnish threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Martel Moore, then a 22-yarder to Nathan Palmer to tie it with 2:52 left.
Sims, who missed an extra point earlier in the fourth, redeemed himself after Harnish moved the Huskies into range for the winning kick.
Harnish went 16 of 26 for 250 yards and three touchdowns, helping Northern Illinois win its eighth straight game. The Huskies overcame four turnovers.
Ohio's Tyler 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, but his final interception -- with 8:49 to play -- set the stage for the Huskies' comeback.
Harnish needed only four plays to cut into the lead, and Moore's touchdown catch made it 20-13. Sims missed the extra point, but when the Huskies got the ball back, they went 57 yards in six plays to tie it.
A mishap on a shotgun 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.
Ohio had a five-game winning streak snapped.
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.
Northern Illinois caught a break in the fourth quarter when Matt 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 for the game's seventh and final turnover.
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.