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COLLEGE FOOTBALL ROUNDUP: N. Illinois wins MAC title; Stanford tops UCLA for Pac 12 crown; Minnestota D-II football coach cleared of child porn charges

North Illinois denied Kent State a BCS bowl bid Friday night when it won the MAC Championship game in overtime.

North Illinois denied Kent State a BCS bowl bid Friday night when it won the MAC Championship game in overtime.

D-II football coach sees child porn charges dismissed

MANKATO, Minn. — A Minnesota football coach sidelined by accusations of child pornography involving his own children reacted with relief Friday after a judge dismissed the case, saying he was “thankful to be waking up from this nightmare.”

Todd Hoffner, the head coach at Minnesota State-Mankato, was effectively cleared when a judge agreed with his assertion that innocent family videos had been misinterpreted. He had been escorted off a football practice field and arrested in August after a university employee came across cellphone videos of his children dancing and playing naked.

“My wife and I have anticipated this day for a very long time,” Hoffner said in a news conference at his attorneys’ offices. “It has finally taken a person with courage and authority to realize what these videos were.”

Hoffner said he wanted to return to work as soon as possible. The university said he will remain on administrative leave until its own investigation is complete. Hoffner has been on leave since the videos were discovered on his university-issued cellphone in August and turned over to police.

Hoffner testified earlier that his three young children asked him to videotape a skit they had concocted after taking a bubble bath. His wife, Melodee, has defended him, as have supporters who held candlelight vigils on his behalf.

A search of his home computer found no evidence of child porn, and social workers found no evidence that the couple’s children had been abused.

In her ruling released Friday, Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass said she didn’t find any evidence that the videos amounted to pornography.

“The videos under consideration here contain nude images of Defendant’s minor children dancing and acting playful after a bath. That is all they contain,” Jass wrote in her 24-page ruling dismissing the charges.

Hoffner’s attorney, Jim Fleming, singled out assistant county prosecutor Mike Hanson for bringing charges in the first place, saying “Hanson essentially argued that this was child pornography because he knows it when he sees it.”

Hanson said in a statement that his office didn’t agree with the dismissal but accepted it.

“Our office was trying to enforce a statute enacted to protect children,” he said. “No matter what the prosecutor does in a controversial case with a high-profile suspect, they will be criticized. We do not go looking for cases like this, they are brought to us.”

University spokesman Dan Benson said he had no timetable for when the school’s investigation would be completed.

Hoffner, 46, of Eagle Lake, had been charged with one count of using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and one count of possessing child pornography. Both are felonies.

He has been sidelined for what has turned into an outstanding season for the Mavericks. They are 12-0 and host Missouri Western on Saturday in the national Division II quarterfinals.

The circumstances of the case, close on the heels of the Penn State scandal involving sexually abused children and authority figures who didn’t intervene, invited questions about whether the university had overreacted to the videos.

Fleming, the coach’s attorney, said Friday that it was for “others to decide” whether the Penn State case played a part in how Hoffner’s case was handled.

“In light of all that’s happened, it would be hard for me to say it wasn’t at least a factor,” Fleming said.

At an earlier hearing on his motion for dismissal, Hoffner testified that he had told his children to go take a bubble bath last June so he could get some work done. Hoffner said the children later came down in towels and asked him to videotape them. He said he never directed the kids, and never watched the video afterward or showed it to anyone.

The videos came to light after Hoffner took his problematic cellphone to work to be checked out.

The coach was escorted off the football practice field on Aug. 17 by university officials after the school turned the videos over to police, and he was arrested four days later.

Hanson, the assistant prosecutor, had argued earlier that the decision on whether or not the videos were pornography should be left to a jury, and disputed the claim that the images were innocent family fun.

Hoffner was entering his fifth year as head football coach at the school, where he had a 34-13 record. He led the Mavericks to the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, and a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title in 2011. He was named NSIC coach of the year in 2009.

Word of the case’s dismissal was just starting to spread Friday night on campus at the university, which with its roughly 15,000 students is among the state’s largest. Sam Moyer, a senior from the Rochester area, said the charges were not a frequent topic of discussion among students.

“I know quite a few people who thought this was just him making family memories — not a sexual act,” Moyer said. “It’s such a big conclusion to jump to, that he was some sexual predator. That ruins someone’s life.”

DETROIT — Jordan Lynch ran for three touchdowns, including a 2-yarder in the second overtime, and Demetrius Stone’s interception in the end zone gave No. 19 Northern Illinois a 44-37 victory over No. 18 Kent State in a stirring Mid-American Conference championship game Friday night.

Both teams were hoping a win would boost them into the top 16 of the BCS rankings and give them a berth in one of college football’s marquee bowls. Northern Illinois (12-1) dominated for much of the night, but the Golden Flashes (11-2) tied it at 34 in the final minute of regulation.

Kent State trailed 27-13 earlier in the fourth before scoring two touchdowns in a 15-second span.

It was 34-all at the end of regulation, and after the teams traded field goals in the first overtime, Northern Illinois needed only two plays to reach the end zone. A 23-yard run by Akeem Daniels set up Lynch’s final TD.

Kent State reached the 9, but on fourth down, Spencer Keith had to scramble to his right and throw a desperation pass that was picked off by Stone in the end zone.

Northern Illinois won its second straight MAC title, the first team to do that since Central Michigan in 2006-07.

Lynch threw for 212 yards and ran for 160, but it almost wasn’t enough. Northern Illinois’ three previous trips to the MAC title game were decided in the final minute, and this one took even longer.

Down by two touchdowns, Kent State rallied in stunning fashion. Keith’s 5-yard touchdown run with 4:53 remaining in the fourth quarter capped a 96-yard drive. Then Lynch fumbled on what looked like a botched exchange with Daniels, and Zack Hitchens picked up the ball for the Golden Flashes and went 22 yards to the end zone.

Lynch weaved his way to a 9-yard touchdown run with 3:12 remaining, but Kent State again had an answer. Keith scrambled to his left and threw a 19-yard scoring pass to Tim Erjavec with 44 seconds to play.

Kent State came in ranked 17th in the BCS standings, meaning a win might have put the Golden Flashes in the top 16 and in position for a bid to a top bowl. The Huskies are 21st in the BCS standings and will need a bigger jump in the rankings.

It was the first MAC championship game to go to overtime.

With Northern Illinois leading 17-13 in the third quarter, Lynch led the Huskies on a 10-play, 75-yard drive and capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run. The highlight of that drive was Lynch’s 44-yard run to the Kent State 4. On the play, Lynch broke the major-college record for yards rushing by a quarterback in a single season. He finished the game with 1,771 yards. The previous mark was 1,702 by Michigan’s Denard Robinson in 2010.

The Golden Flashes got off to the start they wanted, taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. But even that was a bit deceiving. Kent State’s touchdown came after A.J. Sebastiano fumbled on a punt return, giving the Golden Flashes the ball at the 22. Dri Archer’s 15-yard scoring run made it 7-0.

Kent State took advantage of a short field again after a Northern Illinois punt bounced backward and was downed at the NIU 36. Freddy Cortez kicked a 37-yard field goal.

It was all Huskies for the rest of the half. They tied it at 10 on a 14-yard pass from Lynch to Martel Moore in the second quarter. Dechan Durante then made an acrobatic interception, reaching over receiver Chris Humphrey to pick off Keith’s pass near the sideline.

Northern Illinois drove 58 yards in 12 plays and took a 17-10 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Daniels.

The Huskies looked set to increase their lead, but Lynch’s pass was intercepted by Leon Green late in the half at the Kent State 3-yard line.

Northern Illinois outgained Kent State 245-50 in the half and 524-260 for the game.


STANFORD WINS PAC-12 IN WILD FASHION:

STANFORD, Calif. — Kevin Hogan threw for 155 yards and a touchdown and ran for 47 yards and another score to help eighth-ranked Stanford beat No. 17 UCLA 27-24 in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night.

As a defender barreled into him, Hogan hurled a 26-yard tying touchdown to Drew Terrell on third-and-15 early in the fourth quarter. Jordan Williamson kicked his second field goal from 36 yards with 6:49 remaining for the go-ahead score to seal Stanford’s first conference title since the 1999 season.

UCLA quarterback Brent Hundley almost brought the Bruins (9-4) back, but Ka’imi Fairbairn missed a 52-yard field goal wide left in closing moments for a disappointing loss.

The Cardinal (11-2) will play the winner of the Big Ten title game between Nebraska and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.