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Football: Bobcats aim to break championship drought

It’s been 43 years and nine days since Ohio last won a Mid-American Conference football championship. But the long wait might be over in a matter of hours.

Ohio suits up to face Northern Illinois Friday night in the team’s third trip to the MAC Championship game in Detroit. The Bobcats have never won a postseason contest, including their two previous championship games and five bowl appearances.

Reversing both parts of that trend was a preseason goal for the team, and after 12 regular-season games, those hopes are alive and well.

“Being able to get here in the past has been a huge step for us and a step we need to credit a lot of people for,” coach Frank Solich said. “We’ve got a great group of seniors, and they’ve done an awful lot for our program. The next step for our program is not to get here, but to win here.”

The Bobcats last won a conference championship in 1968 under coach Bill Hess, the program’s most successful coach in terms of MAC titles (three) and second in terms of wins and winning percentage — until this season. Solich now has a better winning percentage than any coach other than stadium namesake Don Peden.

Ohio’s last two championship-game appearances came against powerful Central Michigan, led by record-setting quarterback Dan LeFevour. This time, the Bobcats face another dual-threat signal caller in Chandler Harnish.

Harnish is seventh in Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense and is 15th in rushing. He is the only quarterback in the top 25 in that category, and the next-best running quarterback is Michigan’s dynamic Denard Robinson (30th).

Solich said Harnish can run like a running back while his receivers run complicated routes and block well.

“From what I’ve seen on film, you don’t get after him. He gets after you,” Solich said. “And that’s a problem.”

To neutralize the Huskies, the Bobcats plan to limit scoring opportunities, though senior middle linebacker Noah Keller admitted that Northern Illinois likely will rack up some yards.

“The most important thing is not necessarily the fact that we give up yards but that we try to limit points,” he said. “When it comes down to it, it’s the points that win you the games.”

One good omen for the team is the similarities between the 1968 championship squad and the current unit. Both teams beat Bowling Green on the road by one point, limited Kent State to one touchdown, destroyed Marshall at home and defeated rival Miami. The team wrapped up the title with a victory against Northern Illinois.

“We plan on winning it this year,” Solich said. “If it does not get done, we’ll continue to move our program forward, and it will get done.”


MAC Championship

OHIO vs. Northern Illinois

7 p.m. Friday

Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.



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