By EVAN MEYER
The 2015 Marathon Mid-American Conference Football Championship Game Friday night at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan will be a rematch of the past two title tilts. It matches the Bowling Green Falcons against the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Bowling Green won the MAC Eastern Division for the third consecutive season in relatively easy fashion and brings a 9-3 overall record into the title game. Northern Illinois is at 8-4 after collecting a share of its sixth straight Western Division crown and gets the title game nod by virtue of owning tiebreakers over Toledo, Western Michigan and Central Michigan.
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THE ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP:
Bowling Green was picked as the pre-season favorite to win the Eastern Division…The Falcons opened the 2015 season losing to Tennessee in Nashville a game that saw 1,161 yards of total offense ….The Falcons picked up their first win of the season the next week at Maryland. Behind 13-6 at halftime, they scored 42 points in the second half following a weather delay. BG had 105 total plays and 692 yards in the win at College Park.
The Falcons’ home opener was a narrow loss to Memphis 44-41, but BG rebounded with its second road win over a Big Ten opponent as it defeated Purdue in West Lafayette, 35-28. RB Travis Greene scored a 12-yard touchdown with just nine seconds remaining.
In the MAC opener at Buffalo, Bowling Green opened a 28-9 lead early in the fourth quarter and held to defeat the Bulls, 28-22. The Falcons followed with decisive wins over Massachusetts (62-38), Akron (59-10), Kent State (48-0), and Ohio (62-24) before being tested at Western Michigan. BG emerged with a 41-27 victory in that contest.
The seven-game winning streak ended at home against arch rival Toledo.
Bowling Green, which leads the league in turnover margin, committed five costly turnovers in a 44-28 loss to the rival Rockets. However, BG rebounded in the regular season finale at Ball State, demolishing the Cardinals 48-10
BGSU CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HISTORY:
The 2015 title game is the fourth in Falcon history. The first was in 2003, losing to Ben Rothleisberger and Miami, 49-27…The rest came after the last two seasons, when they faced Northern Illinois on both occasions. Matt Johnson and the Falcons blasted Jordan Lynch and company 47-27 in 2013 and fell (without Johnson) last year, 51-27
OFFENSE: BGSU is averaging 44.2 points & 566 yards per game
RUSHING: Travis Greene 183 carries- 1036 yards 12 touchdowns
PASSING: Matt Johnson 343-498-6 4465 yards 41 touchdowns
RECEIVING: Gehrig Dieter 82 receptions-882 yards nine touchdowns
DEFENSE: The Falcons are allowing 27.6 points & 421.3 yards per game
TACKLES: Austin Valdez 50-70-120 (9 TFL-5 BKUP-1 SACK-2 INT)
TFL: Taylor Royster 10-51
SACKS: Terrance Bush 6-31
INTERCEPTIONS: Dernard Turner 4-123
PUNTING: Joe Davidson 44-45.5 avg per kick
PLACE KICKING: Tyler Tate 6-12 FG/ 39-40 PAT
KICK RETURNS: Ryan Burbrink (PR) 10-5.2 avg Scott Miller (KR) 24-19.0
With the win at Ball State, the Falcons reached the nine win mark for the fifth time since 1995…RB Travis Greene reached the 1000 yard rushing mark the second player in school history to accomplish the feat in multiple seasons (Paul Miles was the other)…In 2015 QB Matt Johnson broke the second season passing mark at BGSU, and also set school and MAC records for touchdowns (41) … Johnson’s 4,465 total yards is first in the Football Bowl Subdivision…and his 41 touchdowns is second.
WR Roger Lewis’ 1,401 receiving yards was second in the FBS and his 14 touchdowns was tied for third…With their win at Ball State, the Falcons are 6-0 on the road and one of ten FBS teams not to lose away from home in 2015…Their 44.2 points per game led the MAC and ranked fourth in the FBS.
Coming into the championship game, the Falcons senior class has 35 wins the third most in school history…Matt Johnson’s 4,465 passing yards this season is second to Ben Roethlisberger’s 4486 for Miami in 2003
The game is the 19th in the all-time series between the schools, with the Falcons having an 11-8 advantage..The series began in 1967…The win by NIU in the championship game last season was the Huskies fourth in the last five meetings with Bowling Green
THE ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP;
Northern Illinois was picked third in the pre-season Western Division poll behind Toledo and Western Michigan…NIU started strong with a pair of home wins over UNLV and FCS member Murray State…They then went on a three-game road trip, beginning at defending national champion Ohio State and gave the Buckeyes all they could handle before falling, 20-13. The NIU defense held the Buckeyes to 298 total yards -- their lowest output until their loss to Michigan State).
NIU fell at Boston College, 17-13, and then opened up MAC play with a 29-19 loss at Central Michigan…Northern returned home and defeated Ball State in a 59-41 shootout which started a six-game winning streak that included victories over Miami, Eastern Michigan, Toledo, Buffalo, and Western Michigan.
It looked like the string of Western Division titles might come to an end after the 26-21 home loss to Ohio in the regular season finale, ending their seven-game winning streak. However, when Western Michigan defeated Toledo the day after Thanksgiving, 35-30, it not only gave NIU a share of the West crown, it gave the Huskies a decisive tiebreaker for the trip to the MAC Championship game. It was the sixth consecutive West title for Northern.
The West Division title, however, came with a high price as the Huskies are down to their third quarterback after losing Drew Hare in the Toledo game with an Achilles injury then backup Ryan Graham in the loss to the Bobcats…Freshman walk-on Tommy Fiedler finished the Ohio game and likely will get the start against the Falcons
NIU CHAMPIONSHP GAME HISTORY:
The title game against BGSU marks the seventh time the Huskies have reached the championship game…They have a 3-3 record in the title contests.Their first visit came in 2005 when they lost to Akron 31-30…In 2010 they lost to Miami 26-21..2012 they beat Ohio 23-20…2014 over Kent State in double overtime 44-37..In 2013, they lost to Bowling Green 47-27 and last season NIU defeated the Falcons 51-17
OFFENSE; NIU is averaging 34.6 points & 440.6 yards per game
RUSHING: Joel Bouganon 261 carries-1212 yards 18 touchdowns
PASSING: Tommy Fiedler 9-17-0 113 yards one touchdown
RECEIVING: Kenny Golladay 70-1107 yards 10 touchdowns
DEFENSE: The Huskies are allowing 24.8 points & 391.8 yards per game
TOTAL TACKLES: Boomer Mays 59-33-92
TACKLES FOR LOSS: Sean Folliard 8.5-29 yards
SACKS: Perez Ford 5-37
INTERCEPTIONS: Shawn Lurry 8-209 yards
PUNTING: Jake Ambrose 59– 37.3 avg. per kick
PLACE KICKING: Christian Hagan 14-18 FG / 49-51 PAT
KICK RETURNS: Aregeros Turner 37-25.6 yds per return TD
PUNT RETURNS: Chad Beebe 13-8.5 avg per return
The Huskies are playing in their sixth straight MAC Championship game tying Marshall (1997-2002) for the most consecutive appearances only Florida (1992-96 in the SEC) has a similar streak…A total of 38 players on the current NIU roster have played in at least one MAC Championship while 15 have started at least one…RB Joel Bouagnon leads the MAC with 1212 yards rushing and fourth in the FBS with 18 touchdowns…In their last three championship games thje Huskies offense has totaled 1530 yards…Shawn Lorry has eight interceptions which leads the MAC and the FBS…NIU saw its 22-game winning streak in the month of November (dating back to 2010) come to an end with the 26-21 loss at home to Ohio…When they meet BGSU it will be the sixth bowl eligible team the Huskies will have faced in 2015..C Andrew Ness will be starting his 55th consecutive game on Friday and according to NIU Athletic Media Relations, Ness is nearing 4,000 total snaps in his career.