NIU Huskies conquer Bowling Green Falcons in MAC Championship, 51-17

By Frank Gogola

Football put its best foot forward on the big stage Friday in the MAC Championship game after months of close victories.

The Huskies (11-2) blew out the Bowling Green Falcons (7-6), 51-17, in the MAC title contest at Ford Field in Detroit. This is the Huskies’ third conference title in four seasons — NIU having lost 47-27 to the Falcons in 2013 — and their fourth title in school history.

The victory is head coach Rod Carey’s first postseason win with the Huskies. He entered the game with an Orange Bowl loss two seasons ago and losses in the MAC Championship game and the Poinsettia Bowl game last season.

“All of the credit goes to [the players] on this,” Carey said. “They said what they wanted; they said it back in January, and they just got it [Friday]. It’s because of all the hard work that they did, and I know that’s a cliché. But, you know what? You don’t get here without hard work, and that’s how they did it, and they bought into that.”

The offense accumulated 552 total yards on 100 plays and broke a MAC Championship game record by scoring 51 points. The 51 points surpassed Marshall’s 49 points in 2002 and Miami’s 49 points in 2003.

The defense held Bowling Green to 287 total yards, intercepted three passes and forced three turnovers on downs. Holding Bowling Green to 17 points, the Huskies’ 34-point margin of victory is the largest in MAC Championship game history.

Freshman kicker Christian Hagan connected on all three of his field goal attempts, splitting the uprights from 35, 32 and 23 yards. Senior punter Tyler Wedel placed three of his five punts inside the Falcons’ 20-yard line.

“That’s a doggone good football team,” said Dino Babers, Bowling Green head coach. “And you got to take your hats off because they did it in every way you could do it in: on the ground, in the air and played outstanding defense and kicking game as well.

“…They left no doubt in everyone’s mind of who the best football team in the conference is this year.”

The Huskies raced out to a 17-0 lead, scoring on their first three possessions. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Hare rushed into the end zone untouched from 5 yards out on a quarterback Keeper, and Hagan drilled a pair of field goals.

Falcons wideout Gehrig Dieter put the Falcons on the board with a circus catch that went for a 42-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

NIU added a touchdown late in the first half when Hare found Luke Eakes, redshirt senior tight end, on a 5-yard throwback touchdown pass. Bowling Green kicker Tyler Tate nailed a 46-yard field goal with time expiring, and NIU took a 20-10 lead into the half.

The Huskies would only add to their lead in the second half, posting the first four scores of the second stanza.

Hare connected with Juwan Brescacin, redshirt junior wide receiver, for a 4-yard touchdown in the back left corner of the end zone.

Redshirt senior tailback Cameron Stingily added a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs, and Hagan hit his third field goal of the game.

Redshirt freshman tailback Jordan Huff capped the scoring at 51-17 with a 2-yard touchdown rush in the final minute after Falcons running back Travis Greene found the end zone on a 6-yard rush for Bowling Green’s lone points in the second half.

“This was our best game to date, at the right time,” Carey said. “I told them in the locker room afterwards, and they know it. I said now that we know how to do it we got another one yet. And we want to keep playing this way because it feels really good when we play this way.”

The Huskies conclude their 2014 season when they take on the Conference USA champion Marshall Thundering Herd in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl 5 p.m. Dec. 23 in Boca Raton, Fla.

This will be the Huskies’ seventh-straight bowl game, which is a MAC record. They have gone 2-4 in bowl games in their current streak.