Huskies win 2018 MAC title game against University of Buffalo

Huskies win 2018 MAC title game against University of Buffalo

By James Krause

Huskies comeback to claim conference title

DETROIT- A 19-point comeback in the second half helped the NIU football team top the University of Buffalo Bulls 30-29 to win the 2018 Mid-American Conference title game.

After falling behind 29-10 with one minute remaining in the third quarter, the Huskies rallied for 20 unanswered points to win their fourth MAC title.

The Huskies capped their rally with a 35-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Marcus Childers to senior wide receiver DJ Brown with 1:09 remaining.

Head Coach Rod Carey said the comeback propelled the team to one of the best he’s ever coached.

“Winning championships is hard, and I am so proud of these guys and what they go through on a weekly basis,” Carey said. “The way they care about each other is the definition of greatness. They’ve crossed that threshold tonight.”

Childers had a career-high 300 passing yards to go with four touchdowns. Two touchdown catches were made by Brown, the other two by junior wide receiver Spencer Tears, including a one-handed catch while falling to his back in the first quarter.

Childers, who was named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game, said his teammates making plays helped build his confidence on the biggest stage of his career.

“It’s the guys around me,” Childers said. “Just them believing in me and the offensive line believing in me, that I’m capable of doing what I did tonight, kind of gave me a confidence booster.”

Junior defensive end Sutton Smith picked up two sacks in the game to extend his season total to 15 sacks, enough to make him the leader in the nation in the category. Smith was named Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game.

Smith’s biggest moment of the game came after the final whistle, proposing to his long-time girlfriend, Julie, on the field. She accepted.

“I was focused on the game,” Smith said. “We had to do what we had to do to get that done, and everything fell into place.”

The Huskies won despite excellent performances from the Bulls. Junior quarterback Tyree Jackson threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns, both caught by senior wide receiver Anthony Johnson.

Penalties hindered the NIU defense on the Bulls opening drive, as a pair of pass interference calls gave Buffalo two free first downs.

Redshirt first-year running back Kevin Marks made NIU pay, capping the drive with a two-yard Bulls touchdown run to take a 7-0 lead with 6:38 remaining in the quarter.

The second quarter opened with another Bulls touchdown when Jackson connected with Johnson on a 13-yard pass. A missed extra point made from Buffalo kept the lead at 13-0.

On their next possession, the Huskies’ offense finally put together a long drive to find themselves in the Buffalo redzone.

Tears capped off the 12-play drive with a highlight reel one-handed catch for his own 13-yard touchdown. NIU reduced the Bulls lead to 13-7 with 9:51 remaining in the half.

The Jackson and Johnson connection of the Bulls struck again on their next possession. Following a timeout, Jackson found Johnson on a 26-yard pass for a touchdown. The Bulls failed a two-point conversion attempt, making the score 19-7.

The offensive showcase continued when Childers put the Huskies in the red zone with a 33-yard quarterback keeper.

Tears appeared to have another acrobatic touchdown catch, but a holding penalty on the Huskies forced them to settle for a 39-yard field goal by senior kicker Andrew Gantz to make it 19-10 with 1:42 remaining in the half.

The Bulls appeared ready to head to the locker room for halftime, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on sophomore defensive tackle Weston Kramer and a 31-yard catch by junior wide receiver KJ Osborn put Buffalo deep in NIU territory.

Buffalo senior kicker Adam Mitcheson increased the teams lead with a 24-yard field goal that ricocheted off the left crossbar and in. Huskies trailed at halftime 22-10.

While the team was down, the team received a boost from senior defensive end Josh Corcoran, who was suspended for the first half following a targeting penalty ejection the week prior.

Coach Carey said Corcoran proved himself as a leader tonight in how he handled returning in the second half.

“It started when we first came off the ramp, at least for me,” Carey said. “He was waiting at the top of the stairs for our locker room and he was slapping everybody’s hand when they came there in the locker room. He was excited to be back with his teammates and on the field. You could just see he is one of many leaders of our team.”

To start the second half, the Huskies defense looked to get their first stop on a third and long for the Bulls. But once again, Jackson and Johnson proved to be a lethal combination for NIU.

Johnson’s sixth catch of the night gave Buffalo 36 yards and a first down. Five plays later, freshman running back Jaret Patterson scored a nine-yard running touchdown to go up 29-10.

The Huskies defense was finally able to force Buffalo’s punter, redshirt first year Evan Finegan, on to the field with a three and out on the next Bulls possession, their first of the game that didn’t result in points.

On the first play of the NIU possession, starting from close to midfield, Childers overthrew a long pass to Tears and was intercepted by senior defensive back Tatum Slack.

While the turnover gave the Bulls the ball back, they found themselves backed up against their own endzone, and back-to-back sacks from Corcoran forced another punt.

Childers didn’t let the interception phase him, going deep again on second and long to find Brown for a 28-yard touchdown. The Huskies ended the third quarter down 29-17.

The Huskies and Carey called on his quarterback again with Childers finding Tears for a wide-open 28-yard touchdown throw. The NIU touchdown made it a one-score game with 12:51 remaining.

The Bulls had possession with under five minutes remaining, needing a conversion to keep a drive alive, still leading 29-24.

On a third and long, Smith came up with his biggest sack of the season to force the punt, giving NIU the ball with 3:20 remaining at the Buffalo 30.

Childers went five-for-eight passing, throwing for 70 yards on a drive that ended with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Brown with 1:09 to go.

A missed two-point conversion kept the door open for Buffalo, but the Huskies defense forced them to turn the ball over on downs, securing the 30-29 victory.

The Huskies’ win puts them at an overall record of 8-5 going into their upcoming bowl game that has yet to be announced. The Bulls, also playing a potential bowl game this postseason, move to 10-3.