"This was our best game today."
That was Northern Illinois Huskies (11-2, 7-1) head coach Rod Carey following his team's 51-17 shelling of the Bowling Green Falcons (7-6, 5-3) on Friday night in the MAC Championship Game. His team set a MAC Championship Game record with their 51 points, and earned them their third conference title in the past four season, a dynasty dating back to Chandler Harnish's senior season.
"You could see that they left no doubt who is the best team in the conference this year," Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers said after the game. Babers was in good spirits despite his team's loss. When asked how the mood was in the locker room following their third straight loss - all to MAC West opponents - he responded, "I (feel) for these seniors. They (were) defending MAC Champions, they're two-time defending MAC East Champions. . .and this is the fourth straight year they'll go to a bowl game, and I'd like for them to win one."
From the start, it looked like Babers had his team ready to punch the Huskies right in the jaw with some trickeration, including a flea-flicker on the fourth play of the game and an end-around pass attempt a few plays later. While neither worked well, the latter drew a roughing the passer call to move the Falcons down to the Huskie 24-yard line. However, on the very next play, Paris Logan broke up a pass, and had it ricochet to Dechane Durante for a huge interception.
That turnover would set the tone for what would become a long night for the Falcon offense. Despite holding Drew Hare and Company to a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, the Falcons would only gain 10 yards over their next three drives, the last being a Logan interception on first down after Ronnie Moore dropped an easy catch over the middle.
Yet while the Falcons struggled, the Huskies were just warming up. Hare calmly led his squad down the field, finishing a scoring drive midway through the opening quarter with runs of 8, 2, and 5 yards, the last resulting in a touchdown. He would later move his offense into solid field goal range after the Logan interception to set up a easy 35-yard chip shot for his freshman kicker Christian Hagan. The score would give the Huskies a 10-0 advantage at the end of the quarter.
After another solid drive to set up a 32-yard Hagan field goal to start the quarter, Rod Carey sent his defense out to stymie James Knapke more, having already intercepted the sophomore twice. However, Knapke threw up a prayer to fellow sophomore Gehrig Dieter, and his 6 foot, 3 inch wide receiver came down with a spectacular catch for a 42-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 13-7 early in the 2nd quarter.
Both teams would trade possessions, playing a field position game until Hare again masterfully directed a scoring drive to give the Huskies a 20-7 lead just before the half on a cross-field pass to Luke Eakes from 5-yards out. Even with Bowling Green getting an ugly 46-yard field goal to cut the lead to 20-10 at the half, the Huskies were set to get the ball to start the 3rd quarter with the Falcons on the ropes.
And what a flurry of punches the Huskies threw in the 3rd. Hare would find Juwan Brescacin just 3:39 into the quarter to make it 27-10, then would have his bruising running back Cameron Stingily punch it in from 2-yards out following a Falcon three-and-out to make it 34-10.
After two big plays to start the ensuing Falcon drive, Babers' offense sputtered and failed to pick up a crucial fourth down late in the quarter. A short Huskie drive ended in a 23-yard field goal to make it 37-10, all but putting away the Falcons for good. Knapke would be replaced by Cody Callaway, who would finish out the night under center for Bowling Green.
The teams would trade interceptions late in the quarter, with Callaway throwing his last pass of the night on a deep ball that would end up in the hands of Durante. The interception was the senior's second on the night, a MAC Championship Game record. However, Drew Hare would throw his second interception of the season on the very next play, as Clint Stephens stepped in front of Da'Ron Brown for the young quarterback's lone mistake of the night.
Stingily and Jordan Huff would add rushing scores in the fourth for Northern Illinois, while Travis Greene powered his way into the endzone for the lone Falcon score of the second half. The final score of 51-17 was even more lopsided than last year's affair that saw Bowling Green stun an undefeated Northern Illinois team.
Hare was named the game's MVP over Brescacin and his miraculous catches (and forced fumble on a Stingily fumble). The quarterback deserved the honors though, with a final line of 29-for-49 passing for 218 yards and a pair of touchdowns versus one interception. He also ran for 60 yards on 12 carries for another score. Stingily finished with 116 yards on just 15 carries and a pair of scores as well. Brescacin finished with 83 yards on 7 catches and a touchdown.
On the other side, Knapke finished 12-for-21 for 151 yards and a touchdown, but threw a pair of interceptions, both hitting his wide receivers' hands in some degree. However, he also lost 20 yards on the ground thanks to 3 sacks. Callaway went 1-for-4 for 12 yards and the interception on the deep ball. Greene had a solid game going for 105 yards on 18 carries and a score, but it was not enough to push the Falcons even close to the Huskies in the second half.
Now both teams await their bowl fate. Should Boise State lose to Fresno State tomorrow night, Northern Illinois could earn the Group of Five's New Year's Day Bowl bid to set up an opportunity to get all six bowl eligible teams into bowl games this year. Should they not get that invite, they'll end up facing Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. The Falcons await the rest of the fallout with destination possibilities including Boca Raton, the Bahamas, or even Boise, Idaho still.