Miami shocks Northern Illinois in final minute to win MAC title

DETROIT -- A year after losing 11 games, the Miami RedHawks are Mid-American Conference champions.

Austin Boucher threw a touchdown pass to Armand Robinson with 33 seconds left and Miami of Ohio won the Mid-American Conference championship with a 26-21 victory over Northern Illinois (No. 25 BCS, No. 24 AP) on Friday night.

"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Boucher said. "It got tipped but the play still got made."

The RedHawks (8-4) have been both.

They won the MAC for the first time since 2003 and their conference-best 15th title overall a season after they finished 1-11.

Chandler Harnish threw three touchdowns for the Huskies (10-3), who had won eight in a row.

"They made a few more plays than we did and that's what got us in the end," Northern Illinois Coach Jerry Kill said. "The balls bounced their way tonight."

Boucher, a freshman making his third start of the season, finished the game 29 for 46 for 333 yards. The decisive touchdown came six plays after the RedHawks forced Northern Illinois to punt from its end zone.

"I've been a quarterback all my life," said Boucher, who got the nod after starter Zac Dysert suffered a lacerated spleen Nov. 10. "I've imagined it so many times -- winning the game in the last minute."

The Huskies drove past midfield in the closing seconds, but the RedHawks' sideline emptied after Harnish was sacked as time expired.

Trailing 14-13 at halftime, Miami went on top early in the half when Thomas Merriweather scored the second of his two touchdowns rushing.

The Redhawks reached the Huskies' 1-yard line after recovering a fumble but came up empty when a fake field-goal failed.

Willie Clark caught a 39-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Northern Illinois a lead that lasted until the final minute.

The RedHawks got the game's first touchdown when Merriweather ran in from a yard out but the kick was blocked by Mike Krause. The Huskies answered with a 69-yard TD catch by Martel Moore.

Miami retook the lead with Tracy Woods' 7-yard touchdown late in the first but fell behind minutes later when Moore caught a 27-yard touchdown from Harnish.

Robinson tied a Miami record with 14 catches for 176 yards and Merriweather ended the night with 85 yards on 11 carries.

Northern Illinois tailback Chad Spann, the conference's rushing leader, finished with 54 yards -- barely more than half his average -- on 17 tries. Moore amassed 110 yards on four catches.

"When they put a lot of guys in the box to keep you from running, you have to make them pay for it," Kill said. "We didn't do that."

Miami could by back in the Motor City soon. Organizers of the Dec. 26 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl get the first choice of the MAC's bowl-eligible teams.

"What an unbelievable feeling," Robinson said. "You'd never think something like this would happen after a 1-11 season."