By EVAN MEYER
DETROIT, Mich – The Bowling Green State Falcons won their second Mid-American Conference football championship in the last three years with a dominating 34-14 win over the Northern Illinois Huskies Friday night at Ford Field.
Bowling Green (10-3) finished the season winning nine of its last 10 games while winning the championship for the third time in school history.
“I am so happy for our senior class.” Falcons head coach Dino Babers said. “The leadership displayed the entire year from the 52-17 loss last year (to the Huskies to sitting here as MAC Champions. We had to overcome a lot this year.”
Northern Illinois (8-5) came up short after winning the Western Division for the sixth consecutive season on tie-breakers over Toledo, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan. The Huskies, however, suffered significant injuries to their to two quarterbacks (Drew Hare and Ryan Graham) in the stretch run and were forced to use freshman Tommy Fiedler his first-ever start.
“Give BGSU a lot of credit.” Huskies head man Ron Carey said. “They played a great game and got us in all phases of the game. Offense, defense, special teams, along with turnovers.”
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The Falcons doubled their lead in the second quarter. After NIU gained possession on a turnover deep in its own territory, junior LB James Sanford hit RB Jordan Huff, who fumbled. Junior DL Mike Minns recovered at the Huskies 17. It was the first of five turnovers the BGSU defense, which leads the MAC in turnovers, would force on the evening.
It took Johnson and the offense just three plays to score a touchdown as he found senior TE Derek Lee all alone in the end zone on a rollout pass. Johnson would finish the game completing 25-of-37 passers for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnson set two new milestones in the contest. The first was the all-time MAC single-season passing mark of 4,700 yards. Also, his two touchdowns gives him 43 on the campaign -- another new school and conference mark.
When asked about his performance, Johnson said “You have to give credit to the offensive line and their will all game long”
BGSU amassed 288 yards in the first half, while the defense held the Huskies had just 72 total yards.
The Falcons margin might actually have been greater were it not for a pair of second quarter gliches.
First, they were stopped on a fourth down from the NIU 4 and then on their next possession, Johnson was intercepted in the end zone.
At the start of the third quarter, Johnson and the Falcons made it 28-0 as he hooked up with Roger Lewis on a slant. It was a foot race to the goal line from 45 yards away, capping a five-play, 73-yard drive to make the score 28-0.
After that score, NIU threw caution to the winds and opened its playbook for Fielder, who relied on the ground game in the opening 30 minutes.
Fielder led the Huskies to their first score as the offense put together a five-play 46-yard drive. The freshman found senior TE Desroy Maxwell uncovered over the for 32 yards and the touchdown to make the score 28-7.
Overall, Fieldler completed 12-of-28 passes for 152 yards and the touchdown to Maxwell, who led the NIU receivers with three receptions for 68 yards and the score.
Late in the period, NIU crept closer as Johnson was intercepted by sophomore CB Shaun Lurry, who returned it 64 yards for a touchdown to make the score 28-14 at the end of the stanza. For Lurry, it was his eighth interception of the year -- a new school record. It also the score was the longest interception return in MAC Championship game history.
Lurry’s pick-six gave the visitors from DeKalb hope. However, any thoughts of an NIU comeback were squelched on the Falcons next drive. As the fourth quarter began, Johnson and the Falcons offense put the game and the championship away with a 12-play, 83-yard drive with Greene scoring his second touchdown of the game a one-yard plunge up the middle.
When asked about the drive after the interception and score, Johnson said it was a great play by Lurry to get the ball. “There wasn’t any time to sulk, and my teammates did a great job to pick me up and was a huge confidence builder for us.”
The rest of the game belonged to the Falcons defense. In the final period alone, they stopped the Huskies on a fourth down deep in their own territory. NIU’s final two offensive possessions of the game with interceptions.
On the evening, the BGSU defensive 11 held NIU to 259 total yards, three intereptions, two fumbles, four sacks and just 2-of-13 on third down conversions. Offensively, the Falcons rolled up 501 total yards, with 266 coming on the ground.