Huskies lose MAC title, but head for Poinsettia Bowl game

By Patrick Smith

Football (8-5, 6-3 MAC) will face Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl later this month after losing to Bowling Green (10-3, 8-1 MAC) in the MAC Championship game 34-14 Friday.

The Huskies’ offense struggled in the first quarter, ending with two punts and a turnover on downs after a red zone fumble by junior wide receiver Aregeros Turner. Bowling Green also had two punts to start the game, but put together a 10-play, 70-yard drive on its third drive, capped off with a four-yard rush by junior running back Fred Coppet. The Falcons led 7-0 after one quarter.

Both offenses continued to stall out for the most part until Bowling Green recovered a fumble by sophomore running back Jordan Huff at the 19-yard line. The Falcons capitalized on the turnover as senior quarterback Matt Johnson threw a touchdown pass to senior tight end Derek Lee. They had an eight-play, 84-yard touchdown drive later in the quarter, pushing their lead to 21-0 heading into halftime. The Huskies put up just 72 yards of total offense with 19 yards in the first half, while Bowling Green had 288 yards of total offense.

Bowling Green struck again quickly in the third quarter, scoring a touchdown on a rapid 73-yard touchdown drive capped after Johnson threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Roger Lewis, pushing the lead to 28-0. Freshman quarterback Tommy Fiedler threw an interception on the next possession, but made up for it later in the quarter with a 32-yard throw to senior tight end Desroy Maxwell to give the Huskies their first points of the game.

Sophomore cornerback Shawun Lurry intercepted a pass with a little more than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, returning the pass 64 yards for a touchdown and cutting the deficit to 14 points. The interception gave Lurry his ninth of the season, which is good for second place on the Huskies’ single season interception list. He also holds the record for interception yards with 273. It was the first defensive touchdown of his career.

Bowling Green proved to be resilient following NIU’s run, coming back in the fourth quarter with a 83-yard touchdown drive that was topped off with a touchdown run from senior running back Travis Greene, giving the Falcons a 20-point lead they held for the remainder of the game.

“Give Bowling Green a lot of credit as they played a whale of a ball game,” said head coach Rod Carey. “They really got us in all three phases: offense, defense and special teams, and the fourth one being turnovers. We didn’t get our running game going and that’s the story of the game besides the turnovers.”

NIU has now lost to Bowling Green twice in the last three years in the MAC Championship. The Falcons defeated the Huskies 47-27 in the 2013 contest and NIU struck back in 2014 with a 51-17 victory.

NIU’s matchup against Boise State will take place at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 23 in San Diego. The Huskies have made it to eight consecutive bowl games and 10 in the last 12 years. They last played in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2013 against Utah State, falling 21-14. They went head-to-head with Texas Christian University in the same bowl in 2006, taking a 37-7 loss.