The Northern Illinois Huskies really do things “the Hard Way”. The Huskies trailed by 19 points late third quarter before they rallied and scored 20 unanswered points (much like they did in 2011) in the final 15 minutes and 17 seconds to claim their fourth MAC title.
The Buffalo Bulls scored on their first three drive as they jumped out to a 19-7 lead over the Northern Illinois Huskies in the MAC Championship Game but NIU would claw their way back in the second half to make it a game.
Bulls’ quarterback Tyree Jackson started strong, compiling a pair of 94-yard drives and a 75-yard drive on their first three possessions that each ended in a touchdown, two of which were TD passes to Anthony Johnson. However, a botched extra point and a missed two-point conversion only netted the Bulls 19 points.
The Huskies would keep it close, scoring a touchdown of their own and hitting a 39-yard field goal making it 19-10 with under two minutes to go in the first half.
After a bogus penalty on the Huskies gave Buffalo new life, they were able to connect on a short field goal right before half time, upping their lead to 12; 22-10.
In the second half, NIU got Josh Corcoran back and that seemed to spark the Huskie defense as, after an opening drive TD that bumped the lead to 19 (29-10), NIU was able to force five punts in a row.
NIU’s defense also was able to sack Jackson four times in the final 30 minutes...a rare feat from an offensive line that had allowed just eight sacks all season long.
Between the Buffalo punts, Marcus Childers actually looked really good for NIU as he threw for four scores and 300 yards for the first time in his career. He connected on a pair of quick TD passes of 28-yard and 32-yards to D.J. Brown and Spencer Tears respectively that kept NIU in it and cut into the lead, bringing the score to 24-29 with 12:51 to go.
Then, still down five with 1:09 remaining, Childers launched a 35-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Brown who somehow kept his knee up long enough to get into the endzone and give NIU their first, and only, lead of the game.
But Tyree Jackson still had time to left. On their first down play, the Bulls went 19-yards to the 44-yard line. Then another PI call on the Huskies brought the ball to the NIU 41-yard line with 51 seconds to go.
After a couple incomplete passes and an ineligible receiver call, the Bulls had a 4th-and-10 with 28 seconds remaining. On fourth down Jackson’s throw was towards the sideline and, even though K.J. Osborn was able to get his hands on it, the ball was thrown outside just enough and fell incomplete, giving NIU the ball and the MAC title.
It was the second time the Huskies have come back from a double-digit deficit in the MAC Championship Game. The first was back in 2011 when Chandler Harnish led the Huskies to 23 unanswered points in the second-half to beat the Ohio Bobcats 23-20.
Both teams still have one game remaining as each will receive a bowl bid but who they play and when is yet to be decided.
Total yards: 409 (300 passing, 109 rushing)
Childers: 21/33. 300 yards (career high), 4 TD (tied-career high), 1 INT; 15 carries, 58 yards
Brown: 4 catches, 84 yards, 2 TD
Tears: 6 catches, 73 yards, 2 TD
Sutton Smith: 10 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks
Corcoran: 2 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks
Total yards: 394 (252 passing, 142 rushing)
Jackson: 18/35, 252 yards, 2 TD
Kevin Marks: 17 carries, 72 yards, 1 TD
Jaret Patterson: 18 carries, 72 yards, 1 TD
Johnson: 7 catches, 124 yards, 2 TD
Kahlil Hodge: 9 tackles, .5 sack, .5 TFL, fumble recovery