NIU head coach Jerry Kill doesn't believe in fate.
It certainly seems like fate had a hand in things Friday night, as No. 24 NIU lost to Miami (OH) in the MAC Championship game 26-21, on a last-minute touchdown throw from freshman RedHawk Austin Boucher to Armand Robinson.
"This is the game of football," Kill said. "There's nothing to all those kind of [fate] things. You either win or lose a football game, and sometimes it doesn't go your way."
NIU (10-3 overall, 8-1 MAC) is now 0-2 in MAC Championship games. The Huskies also lost in 2005, when they fell to Akron.
Having not won a MAC crown since 1983, the Huskies were a heavy favorite to win their first conference championship in 27 years.
But Boucher and Robinson had plans of their own.
Robinson, who had 14 catches for 176 yards on the night, was left wide open as the defensive back for NIU who was assigned to him blitzed. What happened next befuddled both of the RedHawk standouts.
"I can't believe they blitzed the man over [Robinson] and the linebacker," Boucher said. "When I threw it, he was right there to make the play. It was a hold-your-breath pass, but he caught it and the rest is history."
NIU got the ball back with 33 seconds remaining and two timeouts, and while NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish was able to drive down the field and get into scoring position, the redshirt junior was sacked as the clock struck zero on NIU's championship hopes.
"We had the right play called, and the coaches told me ‘don't take the sack,'" Harnish said. "I got caught looking over at [wide receiver Willie Clark] on the right side, and I just held onto the ball too long. I didn't give our team a chance, and I feel absolutely sick about that."
Harnish's sack on the final play wasn't the only missed opportunity for the Huskies. On a third-and-16 in the second quarter, Harnish went over the top for a 47-yard touchdown strike to wideout Nathan Palmer.
At least, it would have been, but the ball slipped right through a wide-open Palmer's hands.
"That drop is gonna [haunt] me for the rest of my life," Palmer later posted on his Twitter.
Later, in the third quarter, NIU wideout Martel Moore, who caught two touchdowns in the first half, would cough up a fumble to halt an NIU drive that hardly got started.
In the end, it was just a matter of the RedHawks making more plays when it counted.
"This hurts, and it should hurt," Kill said. "That's part of life - you don't win all the time. This is when you find out who you are."