For the second time in three years, the Bowling Green Falcons (10-3, 7-1) downed the Northern Illinois Huskies (8-5, 6-2) to win the MAC Championship behind a stellar showing on both sides of the ball.
The game started slow, as both teams struggled to move the ball with consistency. Within the first eight minutes of the game, there were more punts than first downs as both quarterbacks were under pressure constantly. However, behind the strong running of Fred Coppet and some solid screen passes, the Falcons were able to strike first on a 4-yard touchdown by the junior running-back.
But the Huskies would put together. Using Jordan Huff to pick up hard earned yards and costly Falcon penalties, NIU was able to drive down the field. However, facing a 4th-and-1, coach Rod Carey elected to go for it at the Falcon 17 rather than kick the field goal. The play wouldn't work, with Aregeros Turner unable to hold onto the hand-off, and the Falcons would fall on it to end the threat.
The Falcons would drive down the field, converting on 4th-and-1 from the 35, but would again face a 4th down dilemma inside the 5 yard line. Instead of electing to kick the field goal to go up by two scores, Falcon head coach Dino Babers elected to use Coppet to try to pick up a 4th-and-2 from the 4. However, the Huskies stood tall and held him to no gain to keep it a one-score game early in the 2nd quarter.
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NIU would fail to move the ball, and the Falcons would get another crack at getting the crucial second score. Using screen passes, they would again get into the redzone. However, after a holding call brought back a 2nd-and-3, Johnson would be flushed from the pocket and threw a prayer to the end zone. Brandon Mayes would be on the receiving end of that prayer. Instead of kneeing in the end zone, Mayes elected to return the pick, but a holding call would give the Huskies poor position at their own 4 yard line.
NIU would get out of the shadow of their end zone, but another fumble - this time by Jordan Huff as he was going down in his backfield - would give the Falcons great field position once again. Johnson wouldn't falter on his third time down. After picking up a first down on a six yard run, he found Derek Lee for a 2-yard score to make it 14-0 midway through the 2nd quarter.
After the Huskies were forced to punt again, Johnson led his team down the field again. He would get help from Perez Ford, with the senior defensive end throwing his helmet for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to inch the Falcons closer to the end zone. Travis Greene would finish off the drive on the next play with a 25-yard score to make it 21-0 just before the half. BG would force NIU to punt, but would be unable to do anything with a small clock to close the half.
The second half would start much like the first. NIU would go three-and-out after a bad drop by Juwan Brescacin halted a potential drive. Johnson would respond with a quick strike to Roger Lewis for a 45-yard score to make it 28-0 to all but bury the Huskies.
Huskie quarterback Tommy Fiedler would settle in after that, and would put together a solid drive for NIU. After hitting Desroy Maxwell for a big gain to open the ensuing drive, he would pick up another first down with a solid run to put them within striking distance. However, the drive would stall and he would face a 4th-and-9 situation after his run game failed him. While he was able to escape Falcon pressure, he would underthrow Brescacin to get picked at the 4-yard line to end the threat.
After forcing a Falcon three-and-out, Fiedler would go back to work, hitting Kenny Golladay on a big 4th down to keep a failed drive alive. On the next play, Maxwell would get wide-open for his quarterback, with an easy pitch-and-catch for a 32-yard touchdown to make it 28-7 midway through the 3rd.
After the Huskies failed on an onside kick, both teams would fail to convert 4th down attempts at midfield. On a 2nd down play, Johnson would fire a pass to Gehrig Dieter, but Shawun Lurry would jump the pass and take it 64 yards for a pick-six to make it 28-14 late in the 3rd quarter. That pick six nearly doubled the length of the longest interception return in MAC Championship Game history, and breathed life into a downed NIU team.
But the Falcons would respond. Johnson calmly led his team down the field using Travis Greene runs to wear down the Huskie defense. With the help of an Albert Smalls pass interference penalty on 3rd down, the Falcons were able to punch in a 1-yard touchdown to make it 34-14, with the PAT getting blocked but appearing to matter little with just over 12 minutes to go.
NIU would respond behind solid plays by Joel Bouagnon. First, he would take a screen pass 22 yards to pick up a 3rd-and-18. Then, he would go 21 yards on a run up the middle to put the Huskies into BG territory. However, after Fiedler hit Chad Beebe to get inside the red zone, the drive would stall to a 4th-and-10. Despite the best efforts of the freshman quarterback, he would get sacked on the play to turn the ball over on downs with 9 minutes to go.
The Huskies would get the ball back with just under 7 minutes to go. Fiedler would go down after a pass interference call got the Huskies into BG territory, but would return after a Jordan Huff first down run. However, he would throw an interception two plays later to Clint Stephens to all but end the game.
Greene would pick up big yards on some gains down the stretch to pad his already stellar totals. The Falcons would give the ball back to NIU with just under three minutes to play, but Fiedler would throw his third interception of the day on a deep ball to Kenny Golladay to seal it.
In all, Johnson finished with a solid game. He went 25-for-37 for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a pair of interceptions that kept NIU alive, but was otherwise solid in keeping the Huskies at bay. Travis Greene earned MVP honors with a spectacular game. He had 183 yards on 29 carries for a 6.3 yards/rush average and a pair of scores. His elusiveness kept the Huskies from ever getting a rhythm on defense and was extremely tough to bring down when facing contact. Fred Coppet complemented him with 85 yards on 16 carries and a score while Roger Lewis finished with 75 yards on 6 catches and score to pace the BG air attack.
For NIU, Fiedler struggled outside of the 3rd quarter. He finished 12-for-28 on the night with 152 yards and a score, but was sacked four times and threw three interceptions. His favorite target was Maxwell, with the tight end catching three passes for 68 yards and the lone offensive score. The ground game never got going for NIU, as they finished with just 107 yards on 38 carries and were averaging less than 2 yards/rush through the first three quarters. Bouagnon finished with 57 yards on 14 carries to lead the Huskies, but the fumbles by Turner and Huff were back-breaking for a team that relies on the run game. Shawun Lurry was the game's Defensive MVP for his pick-six.