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Northern Illinois rallies from 19 down to beat Buffalo in MAC championship game

DETROIT — Marcus Childers threw a touchdown pass — his fourth of the game — to D.J. Brown with 1:09 to go, and Northern Illinois rallied from a 19-point, second-half deficit to take a 30-29 victory over Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference championship game Friday night.

The 35-yard touchdown pass came on the eighth play of a 70-yard drive that took a little more than two minutes after a punt forced by Sutton Smith’s sack of Bulls quarterback Tyree Jackson.

NIU’s two-point conversion failed, and the Bulls (10-3) reached the Huskies’ 41-yard line before an incomplete pass on fourth down with 21 seconds left ended Buffalo’s hopes.

“Winning championships is hard, and I am so proud of these guys, these student-athletes,” NIU head coach Rod Carey said. “I’m proud of my coaches, too. In all my years of coaching, this is my favorite group to be around, and I’ve won championships before.

Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey is doused during the closing seconds of the Mid-American Conference championship game against Buffalo on Friday in Detroit. Northern Illinois won 30-29. Carlos Osorio/AP

“There was never a time when the defense was struggling in the first half that the offense didn’t believe that the defense wouldn’t get it straightened out. When we were down 29-10, there was never a time that the defense didn’t think the offense wasn’t going to get it done. That belief goes a long way when you are talking about execution against a really good football team.”

The Huskies’ touchdown completed a comeback from a 29-10 deficit in the third quarter. Childers threw a 28-yard score to Brown near the end of the third and a 32-yarder to Spencer Tears with under 13 minutes left in the fourth. Childers also had a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tears in the first half. Childers was 21-for-33 for 300 yards with an interception and led the team with 58 yards rushing on 15 carries.

“We stayed together as a family,” said Tears, who had six catches for 73 yards. “Everybody locked in. Everyone stated positive.  There was no negative energy.  We were staying together, knowing we could come through.”

Jackson was 18-for-35 passing for 252 yards and two touchdown passes to Anthony Johnson, who had 124 yards receiving on seven catches for Buffalo. Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson ran for touchdowns. Buffalo missed a PAT after their second TD.

The Huskies (8-5), who have won four title games, will find out their bowl destination Sunday.

Sun-Times wires