It doesn’t matter if it’s a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday: #MACtion can happen at any moment.
The 2018 season was certainly no different in the Rust Belt-centered conference, which provided us with an entire buffet of thrilling matchups.
College football is over seven months from kickoff, so before we look ahead, let’s reflect on the best conference games from the MAC this past season.
10. Western Michigan 42, Bowling Green 35
October 13, 2018 — Doyt-Perry Stadium, Bowling Green, OH
It wasn’t expected to be a close contest as the 5-2 Broncos entered as 15-point favorites over the struggling Falcons. A 1-6 team was all that barricaded Western Michigan from bowl eligibility, but the Broncos’ defense proved underwhelming early. Bowling Green entered halftime with a 21-7 lead thanks to 70+ yard touchdowns from Andrew Clair and Scott Miller. Western Michigan scored touchdowns on five of seven second half possessions, anchored by “thunder and lightning.” Thunder, Jamauri Bogan, produced four rushing scores in a 75-yard performance. Lightning, LeVante Bellamy, drove the Broncos down field on those key possessions with a game-high 145 rushing yards.
Turnovers were the Falcons’ poison. At the midway point in the third quarter, Bowling Green was situated in Bronco territory with a 14-point lead when quarterback Jarret Doege was strip sacked. Bowling Green committed four turnovers, including two interceptions on potential game-tying drives. One of those opportunities stalled at the 15-yard line when Anton Curtis picked Doege off to preserve a Western Michigan victory. Bowling Green head coach Mike Jinks was fired after the conclusion of this contest, sporting a 1-6 season record and a 7-22 overall record with the Falcons.
9. Ohio 27, Kent State 26
October 6, 2018 — Dix Stadium, Kent, OH
No MAC team progressed as a program during the season more than the Ohio Bobcats. Ohio entered this game splitting its first four contests, stuck at a mediocre 2-2 record. And it almost got worse.
Woody Barrett launched a 75-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah McKoy on the first play from scrimmage, and thanks to three consecutive possessions resulting in Ohio turnovers, Kent State claimed a 20-7 lead. A 59-yard strike from Nathan Rourke to Andrew Meyer sparked the Bobcats’ turnaround, and A.J. Ouellette and Rourke each rushed for touchdowns on a 20-6 run to end the game. Ohio’s defense did its job by keeping Barrett and the Golden Flashes out of the end zone and forcing Matthew Trickett field goals and a game-sealing interception with 1:15 to go.
Both teams trended in opposite directions after Ohio finalized its dramatic second half comeback. The Bobcats began a stretch in which they won seven of nine, while Kent State finished the year 1-6, including this home collapse.
8. Northern Illinois 26, Eastern Michigan 23
September 29, 2018 — Rynearson Stadium, Ypsilanti, MI
If you spit every Northern Illinois game recap and Eastern Michigan game recap into a bot and had it write you a script for this game... well, here it is.
Eastern Michigan scored on each of its first two drives, opening up a 10-0 lead on the grey turf. Northern Illinois’ start was horrendous, turning the ball over and punting frequently. All of a sudden, the Huskies woke up and hit a buzzer-beating 26-yard field goal to lead 13-10 at the break.
The second half went something like this: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, made field goal, end of game. Chad Ryland’s game-tying field goal with three seconds remaining stood as the only second half score.
Overtime arrived, and suddenly, both teams matched their touchdown total from the evening. Quick scores by Shaq Vann and Ty Harmston allowed the game to enter a second overtime. Four plays into 2OT, NIU fumbled and Eastern Michigan recovered, pushing the Huskies to the brink of a loss. However, Ryland shanked a 38-yard field goal, sending the game into a THIRD overtime (first multi-overtime game of 2018). This time, Ryland connected from 42, but the Huskies pounded the ball into the end zone with Tre Harbison.
Eastern Michigan lost another overtime heartbreaker that it seemed to have in the bag. Northern Illinois pulled an improbable MAC win out of nowhere. And the game was an exact repeat of last year’s NIU comeback to beat EMU in overtime.
7. Miami (OH) 30, Ohio 28
November 7, 2018 — Yager Stadium, Oxford, OH
This was the definition of a “trap game” for Ohio. Miami entered this game with a 3-6 record, and bowl eligibility seemed to be an afterthought with the Bobcats and Huskies looming on its schedule. Ohio had won 5-straight matchups in the “Battle of the Bricks” and 11 of the last 12 over its crosstown rival.
In weeknight action, the teams exchanged touchdowns on the opening drives. Ohio, riding a 3-game win streak, couldn’t ignite its passing offense against the RedHawks, resorting to multiple three-and-outs and a fumble in the first half. Running backs Kenny Young and Alonzo Smith worked wonders for Miami, building the foundation for a 28-7 halftime edge.
A comeback was bound to happen, and it did. With under three minutes in the third, Papi White secured a leaping grab for the first Ohio touchdown since the opening drive. The real momentum swinger occurred when the Bobcats blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown, trailing 28-21 in the middle of the final frame.
The play of the game? Miami’s punter Kyle Kramer booted a beautiful 47-yard punt which rolled out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Operating from a dangerous part of the field, Rourke took a vital sack on third and long, forcing the Bobcats to face a two-score deficit with under six minutes to go.
Ohio’s defense then forced the three-and-outs. The offense flew 80 yards down field in two minutes to cut within two, but time ran out on the Bobcats’ final gasp. Frank Solich sent backup quarterback Quinton Maxwell to launch a Hail Mary... and the far-off attempt marked the beginning of a 3-game win streak for Miami, who’d wind end up bowl eligible despite an 0-3 start.
6. Akron 24, Kent State 23
October 20, 2018 — Dix Stadium, Kent, OH
This game makes the list by default because the Wagon Wheel is one of the best trophies in all of college football. But if you gave me the option to listen to Darius Rucker sing “Wagon Wheel” live or watch this overtime thriller, you’d send me to Dix Stadium on a Saturday afternoon 10 times out of 10.
The most impressive play of this low-scoring battle was the elusive Kato Nelson’s 55-yard touchdown run in the middle of the third quarter. That touchdown marked the end of scoring in regulation... with 23:41 left of game time. We watched nine consecutive punts by the MAC East opponents to finish regulation, but only three of those punts arose from three-and-outs. Thus, there was an interesting field position battle on the turf.
The palpable tension which had built up since the third quarter burst in overtime after an eight-yard Andre Williams touchdown to put Akron up for the first time since the second quarter. Kent State wasted no time answering back, as runningback Justin Rankin scored quickly on a screen pass from Barrett for a 29-yard touchdown to pull within an extra point of tying the game again.
That’s where things got extra weird. Kent State botched the snap on the extra point... or maybe it was a designed fake with horrific execution. We’ll never be sure of that answer, alas as it was a triumphant Zips team which celebrated and posed with the giant wheel for the fourth-straight season.
5. Eastern Michigan 28, Toledo 26
October 13, 2018 — Rynearson Stadium, Ypsilanti, MI
From what I’ve seen on the Internet, teams that blow 28-3 leads are transformed into memes. Luckily for folks in Ypsilanti, Eastern Michigan’s bird of choice is an eagle, not a falcon.
Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike Glass built the 25-point lead at halftime by running for 125 yards on 10 carries and completing 6-of-8 passes for 100 yards. The efficient performance for Glass ended at halftime, as he left the game with an injury.
The Eagles were clearly different in the second half. With Glass out and Tyler Wiegers under center, they lost the member of the offense who created the sizable margin on the scoreboard. The rushing attack began to suffer and Eastern Michigan somehow survived an entire half without scoring a single point. Toledo hit paydirt with back-to-back touchdowns to start the fourth quarter and even withstood a self-inflicted turnover. The Rockets were granted one final opportunity and on a game-deciding fourth and goal, Mitchell Guadagni scrambled for a risky 10-yard touchdown. His pass on the two-point attempt was well-defended in the back of the end zone, and the comeback fell two points short. No 28-3 lead was blown that day.
4. Buffalo 51, Miami (OH) 42
October 30, 2018 — UB Stadium, Buffalo, NY
It was the first Tuesday night college football game of the year, and I had to investigate the teams to make sure they weren’t from the Big 12.
A total of 93 points were scored on Halloween Eve in upstate New York. This game reminded me of NCAA 14, where offense always beats defense — it just comes down to whoever turns it over first.
Miami was one-upping Buffalo on the scoreboard in the first half, but the Bulls scored three-straight touchdowns to close the second quarter and open the third, leading 35-21. In the last 2:30 of the third quarter, the RedHawks punched the ball into the end zone twice, which included a 59-yard Kenny Young reception. MAC Freshman of the Year Jaret Patterson ran in the final touchdown of the Tuesday night, and Adam Mitcheson — Buffalo’s all-time points leader — kicked a clutch field goal to follow up a missed extra point.
Trailing by nine, Miami’s hopes were drained deep into Buffalo territory, when Gus Ragland was strip-sacked by Kadofi Wright.
Ragland threw for 313 yards and Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson threw for 358 and contributed six total touchdowns (three rushing, three passing). But perhaps the most jaw-dropping stat line of the night belonged to Buffalo wide receiver Anthony Johnson: 8 receptions, 258 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns. Any fan of offensive shootouts became instantly captivated by this midweek showdown.
3. Western Michigan 40, Miami (OH) 39
September 29, 2018 — Yager Stadium, Oxford, OH
Another classic QB duel. Gus Ragland threw three touchdowns on 294 yards, while Western Michigan quarterback Jon Wassink achieved unfathomable stats of 439 yards and five touchdowns. Not a single interception was thrown. It was just great football all around.
Western Michigan’s struggling defense dug the team into a 33-21 hole toward the end of the third quarter. Wassink regrouped and captained his team on back-to-back drives of 75 and 89 yards to take a 34-33 fourth quarter lead. Jack Sorenson guided the RedHawks down the gridiron in a 59-second drive, and Dominique Robinson put on the finishing duties for a go-ahead touchdown reception. After missing the 2-point attempt, Miami led 39-34.
It was time for Jon Wassink’s checkmate. Although his arm was making tremendous plays all afternoon, his legs would convert the play of the day. On 4th-and-10, Wassink unleashed a John Elway helicopter-esque run which kept the Broncos in the contest. Wassink displayed his toughness on that scramble, finally getting stopped at the Miami 2-yard line. Then, he called his number again and powered it in for a touchdown to reclaim a 1-point advantage.
Miami relied on a 50-yard field goal to win the game. It didn’t come close, and Western Michigan left Oxford with a thrilling W. It’s also noteworthy that freshman wide receiver Jayden Reed hauled in four touchdown catches in the win, tying Corey Davis for a program record.
2. Ball State 42, Western Michigan 41
November 13, 2018 — Scheumann Stadium, Muncie, IN
Is there anything better than overtime mayhem on a Tuesday night? Kaleb Eleby and Drew Plitt led their offenses to an 83-point shootout, and it ended in bizarre, “what just happened?” fashion.
Thanks to a Western Michigan fumble, Ball State led the favored Broncos 21-17 at halftime. Plitt couldn’t miss on his throws, and ended up completing 21-of-26 for three touchdowns. After Western Michigan failed to convert on a 4th-and-1, James Gilbert sprinted in for a 12-yard touchdown to put the Cardinals up 11.
Several sequences passed and Western Michigan faced a 4th-and-goal at the 1, trailing 28-20. The Ball State front-seven feasted on Jamauri Bogan on the play, forcing a 4-yard loss and crucial turnover on downs. But just seconds later, all of that was squandered when Plitt was intercepted on a heave down the left sideline. LeVante Bellamy (213 rushing yards) answered with a touchdown off the turnover, and tight end Giovanni Ricci caught the tying 2-point conversion.
The teams traded touchdowns on efficient drives to enter overtime deadlocked at 35 apiece. Riley Miller picked up 24 yards on the opening play of the extra period, and Ball State subsequently scored. Western Michigan anchored its own scoring possession and Tim Lester decided to go for the win instead of double overtime. But his halfback draw to Bellamy was instantly stuffed at the line of scrimmage, leading to a rare November win for Ball State on senior night. It was just a baffling play call, especially in a contest where neither QB seemed to miss.
And it turned out to be a conference-altering victory, as it opened the door for eventual MAC West champion NIU to claim the MAC West once again.
1. Northern Illinois 30, Buffalo 29
November 30, 2018 — Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Not every conference can claim its conference title game was its best contest of the season. The MAC Championship Game had EVERYTHING: comeback element, long touchdowns, defensive plays, and star power.
Per ESPN’s win probability metric, Buffalo peaked with 4:20 left in the third quarter, possessing a 98.2% chance to beat Northern Illinois. At the moment, the Bulls seemingly had a stranglehold on the game with a secure 19-point lead over the Huskies.
But Sutton Smith and the defense would unwind the dominance Anthony Johnson and the Bulls established throughout the first 2.5 quarters. The MAC Defensive Player of the Year finished with 10 tackles, two sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss. Once Smith and Antonio Jones-Davis set the tone on defense, quarterback Marcus Childers took over and played the game of his life.
Childers threw the first 300-yard game of his career, and the second-year starter caught fire when he found D.J. Brown for a 28-yard score with under 20 seconds remaining before the fourth quarter. The defense then forced the third of five consecutive Buffalo punts, and Childers replicated his previous drive. This time, Spencer Tears was the recipient of a 32-yard touchdown, and the Huskies stood one drive away from pulling off the upset.
With about four minutes left until crowning a champion, Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson scrambled around the pocket on third down, meeting Sutton Smith in the backfield 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The pivotal play backed the Bulls up from their own 45 to the 31, with a punt ensuing.
Childers pulled off the Huskies’ best drive of the season by completing six passes for 70 yards. With 1:09 left, he delivered a perfect dime to a diving D.J. Brown into the end zone for a go-ahead 35-yard score. The SportsCenter highlight catch propelled NIU to a 30-29 lead — its first of the night.
Buffalo managed to travel to the Huskies’ 41 with 43 seconds left, but four-straight incompletions sealed the NIU comeback effort. When the final pass from Jackson’s right arm collided with Ford Field’s turf, the Huskies were crowned king of the conference for the fourth time this decade.