Wind was a huge factor as the Northern Illinois Huskies (7-3, 5-1 MAC) hosted the Western Michigan Broncos (6-4, 4-2 MAC). It was likely do-or-die for each team to keep their MAC West title hopes in play. Northern Illinois ended up the victors by a score of 35-31.
Northern Illinois opted to avoid passing for the more reliable rushing attack. Marcus Childers put up 11 passes, completing six of them. Childers finished with 64 yards, one passing touchdown, and no interceptions either. Mitchell Brinkman led the Huskies with 26 receiving yards on his one catch. Each of the six completions were to different receivers.
Jordan Huff made Western Michigan pay up as he rushed for 185 yards on 25 carries. He led the Huskies on their run-heavy offensive scheme. Running proved to be an issue during the second and third quarters as the Broncos cheated up to stop the run after the opening drives. Northern Illinois finished with 248 rushing yards as a team.
Sutton Smith recovered a Reece Goddard fumble, taking it in for a defensive touchdown.
Matt Ference punted three times for the Huskies He punted for 36 yards with aid of the wind and averaged 23 yards into the wind, partly from two shanked punts. Josh Orne took over, punting two times without much more success. Christian Hagan did not attempt any field goals, but did make all five extra points.
Reece Goddard held the reins at quarterback for the Broncos, opting for short, high-percentage passes. Goddard completed 15 of his 27 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Tyron Arnett led the Broncos in receptions with three catches for 93 yards. Keishawn Watson showed excellent hands in two crucial receptions, but more importantly, not dropping passes. Watson finished with five receptions for 53 yards and a score.
Western Michigan dominated time-of-possession by using slow, methodical running as a cornerstone of their offense. Jarvion Franklin was a powerhouse for the Broncos, earning 115 yards on 27 carries. As a team, the Broncos put up 110 rushing yards on a suffocating Northern Illinois defense. Ra’Sean Davie made a brief appearance, but was unable to produce much yardage.
Treshaun Hayward recovered an important Northern Illinois muffed punt, putting the Broncos in the redzone. Trayshon Foster picked up another fumble on a Bronco punt as the ball bounced off a receiver. Derrick Mitchell had to punt six times for Western Michigan. He averaged 37 yards punting, including one punt for 65 yards. Josh Grant ended up making all four extra points and attempted two field goals. Grant made a 28-yard field goal, but missed from 44 yards away wide left.
Jordan Huff opened the scoring on the first Northern Illinois play from scrimmage, breaking free for a 31-yard touchdown run. Keishawn Watson made an excellent catch for a seven-yard Bronco touchdown, tying the game up. Northern Illinois scored again on a Marcus Childers one-yard run, set up by another big run by Jordan Huff. Chad Beebe fumbled away the ball to the Broncos just before the second quarter began on a muffed punt. Jarvion Franklin later capitalized with a two-yard run for a score. Midway through the second quarter, Sutton Smith picked up a Reece Goddard fumble, returning it all the way for a Huskie touchdown.
Coming out of a 21-14 halftime score, both teams played a careful field position game. Late in the third quarter, Western Michigan came up with another big special teams play as Derrick Mitchell’s punt bounced off a Huskie player for the Broncos to recover. Reece Goddard took advantage of great field position with a seven-yard touchdown run to tie the game. Northern Illinois’ next possession ended on the first play on a Marcus Jones fumble, recovered by Stefan Claiborne. Donnie Ernsberger capped the drive off with an athletic catch-and-run from Reece Goddard, good for a 13-yard touchdown.
Jordan Huff led an early fourth quarter drive, which he finished with a wide-open 14-yard touchdown run. Josh Grant responded with a 28-yard field goal to regain the Broncos’ lead. Northern Illinois took the lead back on a 12-yard Marcus Childers pass to Mitchell Brinkman. The Huskies drained the clock out to secure the victory.
Western Michigan (6-5, 4-3 MAC) will now travel to Ohio to take on the Toledo Rockets. The Broncos’ hopes of earning the MAC West title may be dead, but they do still have a probable bowl bid to keep them busy in December. Northern Illinois (8-3, 6-1 MAC) will travel to take on the Central Michigan Chippewas. The victorious Huskies must win their next game (and hope for a Toledo loss in one of the Rockets’ next two games) to win the MAC West title.