DETROIT, Mich -- Whatever went wrong for the Northern Illinois Huskies in last year’s MAC championship loss to Bowling Green, the Huskies made sure it didn’t happen this time around. Northern Illinois dominated Bowling Green Friday on the way to a 51-17 victory at Ford Field in Detroit.
“That’s a good football team, and you have to take your hats off (to them), because they did it in every way you could do it: on the ground, in the air and played outstanding defense and kicking game as well,” Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers said.
“This was our best game at the right time," NIU head coach Rod Carey said. “These kids set out what they wanted to do back in January [win the conference championship] and it’s because of their hard work that we’re here. You don’t get here without hard work. “
Unlike last year, Northern Illinois grabbed an early lead and pulled away. Already leading 20-10 at the half, NIU scored 24 straight points after intermission to put the game away.
Friday’s outcome was the seventh straight win for Northern, which fought its way through some tough competition late in the year to reach the championship game.
Bowling Green, on the other hand, clinched the East title early and faltered down the stretch. Friday’s loss was the Falcons third straight and fourth setback in four outings against MAC West teams.
Northern Illinois, meanwhile, racked up 552 yards of total offense, including 334 yard rushing. Cameron Stingily led the way with 116 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Akeem Daniels added 76 yards on 12 totes. Quarterback Drew Hare chipped in 60 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and Joel Bouagnon totaled 57 yards on nine carries. As a whole the group averaged 6.5 yards per carry and provided four touchdowns.
Hare was also effective in the passing department, completing 29-of-49 (59.1%) for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Hare’s one INT, his second interception of the entire season, was picked off by Clint Stephens.
NIU defenders more than offset that with their own interceptions. Dechane Durante had two picks and Paris Logan one. It was Durante's fourth pick in MAC Championship competition.
“We knew it was a tempo offense and we practiced fast and we played fast,” Durante said. “Our offense helped us with some long drives. We knew they were going to throw downfield and I’m just happy we played our best game tonight, hands down.”
A bright spot – at times -- for Bowling Green’s offense was the running game. Travis Green carried 18 times for 105 yards (5.8 ypc) and one TD. Fred Coppett added 41 yards on 11 rushes.
Quarterback James Knapke, who took over for Matt Johnson after a season-ending injury to Johnson in Week One, completed 12-of-21 passes for 151 yards and one TD. He tossed two interception, while freshman Cody Callaway went 1-of-4 for 12 yards and one interception in a late relief appearance.
Ryan Burbrink had five catches for 56 yards, while Gehrig Dieter covered his 56 yards on two receptions – one of which was a touchdown.
Northern Illinois tallied the game’s first score when Hare took a quarterback draw up the middle for five yards and the touchdown at 5:57 of the first quarter.
Bowling Green’s second possession after that ended quickly when Logan picked off a Knapke pass on the first play of the drive. That gave the Huskies possession at the BGSU 25. When the Falcon defense held, Christian Hagan booted a 35-yard field goal.
The Huskies defense earned favorable field position for Northern’s offense when it stopped BG on a 4th-and-5 try just before the end of the first quarter. NIU took over at the Falcons 45. Thirteen plays later, Hagan came on to hit a 32-yard field goal, making it a 13-0 ballgame.
Asked if felt the TD might provide some BG momentum, Dieter said, "I felt the spark with the whole team. Our defense got a stop the next drive and I thought things were rolling, but then we hit halftime and they came out strong at halftime and ran away with the game."
It appeared the two teams might head to intermission with the 13-7 score, but Hare took quick advantage of a some extra cushion in the Falcons defense just before halftime.
Starting at the NIU 32 with 1:31 left, Hare repeatedly hit receivers near the boundry. The Huskies ultimately moved 68 yards in 10 plays that consumed just 1:06 on the clock. Facing second-and-goal at the five, Hare rolled left and then threw back across the field goal Luke Eakes, who had drifted into an uncovered area of the endzone seemingly “behind” the play. Eakes’ TD and the PAT left Northern Illinois in front, 20-7, at the break.
Upon receiving the second half kickoff, Northern Illinois marched 68 yards on 10 plays. Hare finished the drive with a 4-yard toss to Juwan Brescacin in the left corner.
Stingily’s 43-yard burst highlighted the next NIU drive, and two plays later the 6-1, 235-pound senior went in from two yards out for the score.
Bowling Green, which went 0-for-4 on fourth down tries, ended its next possession on downs. Northern Illinois then moved the ball 56 yards before settling for a 23-yard Hagan field goal that left the Huskies in front 37-10.
A two-yard Stingily run at 7:38 of the final quarter put NIU up 44-10.
Bowling Green got its final score of the night on the next possession. Tyler Wedel’s 62-yard kickoff return to the Falcons in good field position. Green finished the four-play, 33-yard drive with runs of 21 and six yards. The latter made it a 44-17 game with 5:56 remaining. The Huskies Jordan Huff scored on a two-yard run with 48 seconds left to end all scoring.
(Photos courtesy of NIU and BGSU Athletics)