Humble Roethlisberger leads Miami to MAC title

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2003

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio - Miami of Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger made all of his teammates look good, but he wasn't about to take any of the credit.

He praised his receivers and his linemen - everyone but himself - after No. 14 Miami's 49-27 victory over 20th-ranked Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference championship Thursday night.

Make no mistake, though, he did it all, throwing for 440 yards and four touchdowns.

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Roethlisberger picked apart the Falcons, spreading the ball to nine receivers. Even when he was under pressure, he just calmly stepped up or rolled out, completing nearly everything he threw.

''All I had to do was put it out there and they made the play,'' he said about the receivers. He credited his offensive line for not allowing a sack in the game.

''I still have a white jersey,'' Roethlisberger said with a grin.

He became just the second MAC quarterback to go over 4,000 yards in a season, joining Byron Leftwich. And he's only a junior.

Bowling Green had no answer for Roethlisberger, who was on target all night with short throws and then went deep when the Falcons played tighter coverage.

''I can't wait to play them when he's gone,'' Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon said. ''We had no answer for him. When we did pressure him, he eluded it and found receivers, and they ran past us all day.''

Roethlisberger, a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's top quarterback, has remained quiet all year about whether he will return to Miami next season.

He's projected to be a top pick in the NFL draft if he comes out.

''People that know football marvel,'' Miami coach Terry Hoeppner said. ''It's only people who see him for the first who are surprised.''

Miami (12-1, 9-0 MAC) won its first MAC title since 1986. The RedHawks haven't lost since the season opener at Iowa. The last team to win all of its MAC games was Marshall in 1999.

Miami will play Louisville in the GMAC Bowl on Dec. 18.

After the game, it was announced that Bowling Green (10-3, 7-2 MAC) accepted a bid to play in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26.

Roethlisberger led Miami to scores on its first four possessions of the second half. He sealed the victory with a 55-yard scoring pass to Calvin Murray, who found a seam along the sideline.

That put the RedHawks up 42-20 with 17 seconds left in the third quarter in only the third meeting between two MAC teams ranked in the Top 25.

The Falcons trailed 21-17 at the half, despite being outgained 306 yards to 172.

But P.J. Pope fumbled on the first two possessions of the second half, giving the RedHawks the ball inside the Falcons' territory each time.

And Miami took advantage.

Murray scored on a 1-yard plunge and Mike Smith ran 13 yards for the first of his two touchdowns, giving the Redhawks a 35-17 lead with 4:57 left in the third quarter.

''They pretty much blew the game open after those two turnovers,'' Brandon said.

Roethlisberger, the conference's player of the year, threw four touchdown passes for the third straight game and completed 26 of 35 passes.

He now has 4,110 passing yards this year. Leftwich surpassed 4,000 twice with Marshall - in 2001 and 2002.

Roethlisberger also broke Leftwich's MAC title game record of 421 yards set in 2001.

Miami's defense took away Bowling Green's short passing game and harassed quarterback Josh Harris throughout.

Harris, a running and passing threat, finished with 260 passing yards and 83 on the ground. He was far from sharp much of the game, completing 30 of 49 passes.

Miami didn't take the lead until late in the second quarter.

Roethlisberger sidestepped a blitzing defender and then rolled to his left before finding Mike Larkin in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard score that put the Redhawks ahead 21-14 with 4:36 left in the half.

It was Roethlisberger's third touchdown pass of the half.

Bowling Green twice jumped ahead by a touchdown earlier in the half.

T.J. Carswell blocked Mike Wafzig's punt, and the Falcons recovered at the Miami 33, setting up its first score.

After moving to the 6-yard line, Harris took the snap and ran untouched into the end zone to put Bowling Green up 7-0 with 11:46 left in the first quarter.

Miami answered five plays later, when Roethlisberger found Ryne Robinson with a 53-yard touchdown pass.

Both Miami and Bowling Green were playing in the championship game for the first time.