It is finally Championship Week in the 2015 college football season, and that means we are just four days away from the 19th annual Mid-American Conference Championship. This will mark the 12th straight year that the game will be held in Detroit, Mich. at Ford Field.
The Bowling Green Falcons and the Northern Illinois Huskies are set to meet on Friday for the third time in as many years. BGSU is the three-time champion of the MAC Eastern Division, while the Huskies are champions of the West for the sixth year in a row. No team has won three straight East titles or been to six straight MAC championship games since the Marshall Thundering Herd played in the first six MAC Championships.
Much like the original trilogy of the Star Wars movie franchise, the current BGSU-NIU championship series started with a decisive win in 2013 by the good guys. Then, in the next chapter, the MAC's version of the Empire struck back with a win of their own. This year, the Falcons will attempt to vanquish the Huskies once and for all.
However, before we get to this year's game, let's examine BGSU's history in the MAC Championship Game...
2003 -- Miami Redhawks 49, Bowling Green Falcons 27
(Game held at Doyt Perry Stadium in Bowling Green, Ohio)
The 2003 MAC Championship was a battle of the league's two best quarterbacks. BGSU's Josh Harris was a dual-threat, while Miami's Ben Roethlisberger would go on to what is arguably a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.
In the opening minutes of the game, the Falcons' T.J. Carswell blocked a punt, and Harris scored the opening touchdown on a six-yard run shortly after. FIve plays later, Roethlisberger tied the game with a 53-yard touchdown pass to Ryne Robinson.
The score remained deadlocked at 7-7 for nearly a full quarter, until BGSU reclaimed the lead on a scoring pass from Harris. However, the Falcons' lead lasted less than two minutes, and they would not lead again. With 4:36 left in the first half, Roethlisberger found Mike Larkin for his second touchdown pass of the quarter for a 21-14 lead Miami would not give up.
Up 21-17 going into the third quarter, Miami forced two P.J. Pope fumbles on back-to-back drives to start the half. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger led the Redhawks to touchdowns on each of their first four possessions. When Calvin Murray caught a 55-yard strike with 0:17 left in the third, Miami went up 42-20 and sealed the game.
Roethlisberger's 440 yards passing and Miami's 576 yards of total offense are MAC Championship game records that still stand. Those 440 yards came on just 35 attempts for Roethlisberger, and he was never sacked. Harris was 30-for-49 with 260 yards passing. Murray had 163 yards of total offense for Miami, while Larkin caught seven balls for 91 yards.
2013 -- Bowling Green Falcons 47, Northern Illinois Huskies 27
(Game held at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich.)
NIU was gunning for its third straight league championship, while BGSU surprised many experts by completing their MAC schedule with a 7-1 record. The Falcons were seeking their first MAC title in 21 years.
Bowling Green's 2013 team was known primarily for its defense and its 1500-yard rusher, Travis Greene. However, they rode the right arm of first-year starter Matt Johnson to victory in this game. Johnson started the contest with a 23-yard completion to Ronnie Moore, then three plays later, he connected with Tyler Beck for a 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. For the third year in a row, Northern Illinois and Bowling Green will meet up in Detroit for the 11th annual MAC Championship Game at Ford Field.
Down 7-0, the Huskies responded with an extended 11-play drive to even the game. Jordan Lynch ran or passed on nine of the plays, and he ended the march with a 14-yard pass to Juwan Brescacin.
BGSU took control of the game from that point. Johnson threw a dart to Moore for 61 yards to open the next drive, and the Falcons kicked a field goal soon after. Then, after forcing NIU to go three-and-out, the Johnson-to-Moore connection continued to abuse the Huskies. They hooked up on consecutive 25- and 36-yard completions, the latter of which was for a touchdown, and BGSU led 17-7.
In the second quarter, NIU kicked a pair of field goals to pull within 17-13, but Johnson threw a third touchdown pass, this time to Heath Jackson for 22 yards. After a missed field goal by the Huskies, a fumble by Greene and a Ted Ouellet interception of Lynch, Johnson closed the half with his fourth scoring throw. This time, it was a 12-yard strike to Alex Bayer, and BGSU led 31-13 at halftime.
Lynch drove the Huskies to a touchdown, which he scored himself, to open the second half. NIU then had a chance to get within one score after BGSU missed a field goal. However, Mathew Sims' 44-yard attempt was wide. BGSU scored on its next three possessions and cruised to a 47-20 lead before eventually winning 47-27.
Johnson threw for a MAC title game record five touchdowns and gathered 393 yards passing by completing 21 of just 27 attempts. Greene rushed for 133 yards and a score, while five different receivers caught Johnson's scoring throws. Moore led the way with 145 yards receiving on just four catches, and Bayer added 124 yards.
Lynch was responsible for 345 yards of offense, as he passed 40 times for 219 yards and ran 26 times for 126 more. He scored three touchdowns, but his two interceptions were damaging.
BGSU produced 574 yards of total offense, just two yards shy of the championship game record that they had allowed ten years earlier. NIU had 454 yards of offense in the losing cause.
2014 -- Northern Illinois Huskies 51, Bowling Green Falcons 17
(Game held at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich.)
Despite losing Jordan Lynch to graduation, Northern Illinois found itself right back in its familiar perch as MAC West champs. Bowling Green was also without its quarterback from the 2013 title game, due to a season-ending injury suffered in the first game of the year. Drew Hare replaced Lynch, while James Knapke subbed for Johnson. NIU decisively won the battle of those replacements.
BGSU, under first-year head coach Dino Babers, came out firing on the first drive. Knapke led the Falcons to the Huskies' 24, but he tossed an interception to Dechane Durante at the NIU 10 to end the drive.
After the teams exchanged punts, NIU opened the game's scoring. Cameron Stingily ran for 12 yards on the first two plays of the drive, then Hare did his best Lynch impression. He completed three straight passes for 33 yards, then ran three consecutive times. The last of those runs was a five yard sprint into the end zone for a 7-0 lead nine minutes into the game.
Knapke threw his second interception of the first quarter from his own 14 with 2:59 left in the frame. The Huskies turned that gift into a field goal and a 10-0 lead after one quarter. On the next drive, BGSU rolled the dice on 4th-and-5 from their own 45 and failed. Again, the Huskies turned it into three points.
The Falcons finally got on the board on their next possession. Fred Coppet and Gehrig Dieter were the studs on the drive. Coppet ran three times for 19 yards, and Dieter caught two passes for 56. The second catch was a 42-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-8.
Down 13-7, it appeared that BGSU would be able to keep the game close, but NIU went on a 10-play drive in just 1:06 right before halftime. Luke Eakes caught a five-yard pass from Hare to take a 20-7 lead. Tyler Tate kicked a 46-yard field goal for the Falcons as the first half expired, but the Huskies carried a 20-10 edge into the half.
Northern Illinois began the second half with consecutive touchdowns and then added a field goal to build a 37-10 lead in the third quarter. In fact, BGSU did not score again until late in the fourth quarter, when they were down 44-10. NIU's final scoring act in the 51-17 victory was a two-yard run by Jordan Huff on their final drive.
The Huskies ran for 334 yards and four touchdowns, while Hare passed 49 times for 218 yards and two more scores. The 100 plays from scrimmage by NIU was a MAC Championship game record. BGSU managed just 287 yards of offense, and only 163 of those came in the air. The Falcons ran only 60 plays and had the ball for just 22:01 compared to 37:59 by NIU.