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Bowling Green derails Northern Illinois' perfect season

The SportsXchange

DETROIT -- For the second time in 10 years, Bowling Green played spoiler and ended a possible Northern Illinois undefeated season and BCS bowl berth.

Sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson threw for a career-high 393 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Falcons to a 47-27 victory over No. 14 Northern Illinois for the Mid-American Conference title on Friday night at Ford Field.

Johnson threw touchdown passes of 28, 36, 22, 12 and 6 yards and the Falcons finished with 574 yards of total offense.

And Bowling Green, which leads the conference in seven defensive categories, managed to accomplish the unthinkable by holding Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch in check until the game was out of reach.

"Nobody believed we could do it, but we started really strong and the offensive line played really good and the defense had another great game," Johnson said amid a wild postgame celebration on the field.

Bowling Green wide receiver Ronnie Moore caught four passes for 145 yards and one touchdown and running back Travis Greene finished with 26 carries for 133 yards and one touchdown. Johnson completed 21 of 27 passes and rushed for 33 yards.

The Falcons blitzed Northern Illinois from the opening kickoff, scoring on eight of their first 11 possessions, including 17 first-quarter points.

"We kept believing and we fought hard and this was a big win (for our program)," Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said.

On Oct. 25, 2003, the Falcons, then coached by Urban Meyer, defeated Northern Illinois 34-18 with ESPN's GameDay crew in attendance. At the time, the Huskies were 7-0 and were ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press poll and 10th in the first BCS standings.

On Friday, the Falcons (10-3) played a bigger spoiler role. With the loss, the Huskies will not be playing in a BCS bowl game.

The Huskies, who lost 31-10 to Florida State in the 2013 Orange Bowl, would most likely have been awarded another BCS bowl bid with a victory over Bowling Green. The Falcons snapped NIU's 25-game conference winning streak and 12-game string.

The Huskies never scored more than seven points in a quarter and Bowling Green cemented the win with 17 straight points in the fourth quarter until Lynch's 2-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds left.

"We've got a bad taste in our mouths (from this loss)," NIU first-year coach Rod Carey said. "We'll come back and try to get this bad taste out of our mouths in the bowl game."

Lynch's long-shot Heisman Trophy chances should fall by the wayside with a subpar performance against the Falcons.

Lynch entered the game accounting for 64.7 percent of NIU's offense, but Bowling Green's defense limited the two-time MAC MVP to 21-of-40 passing for 219 yards and one touchdown. The Falcons intercepted two of Lynch's passes and held him to 126 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 26 carries.

"You have to give Bowling Green credit for playing a great game," Lynch said. "We had problems getting in sync all game. We're going to learn from this loss and we can't wait to play in (the bowl) game."

The Mid-American Conference will lose a lot of notoriety and millions of dollars because of NIU's first loss this season. The Huskies might be spending the bowl season in Mobile, Ala., in the GoDaddy.com Bowl instead of the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

Johnson and Bowling Green's defense were the main culprits in ending Northern Illinois' dreams. The Falcons won their first MAC title since 1992 by stopping Lynch and Northern Illinois' high-powered offense in its tracks.

Bowling Green struck first in a wild first quarter when Johnson connected with Tyler Beck for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 12:27 left in the quarter.

Lynch wasted little time tying the score at 7, engineering an 11-play, 73-yard drive that ended with his 14-yard scoring pass to Juwan Brescacin with 9:08 remaining in the first quarter.

The Falcons kept the shootout going when Tyler Tate drilled a 26-yard field goal on their second possession of the game for a 10-7 lead.

After a Northern Illinois punt, Johnson and Ronne Moore hooked up for two long completions, including a 36-yard touchdown catch by Moore, to boost Bowling Green's lead to 17-7 with 2:32 left in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Northern Illinois senior kicker Mathew Sims booted two field goals to cut the deficit to 17-13.

Johnson, who completed 16 of 19 first-half passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns, answered with a 22-yard scoring pass to Heath Jackson to expand Bowling Green's lead to 24-13. The Huskies, who have trailed in 11 of their 13 games this season, fell behind 31-13 after Johnson's 12-yard touchdown toss to Alex Bayer with 13 seconds left until halftime.

"We didn't play a good half of football to start the game," Carey said. "It was too much to make up in the second half."

NOTES: Northern Illinois senior QB Jordan Lynch became the first Mid-American Conference player to be named a finalist for the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year Award. Lynch was one of five finalists. ... Entering the game, Lynch needed 61 rushing yards to break his season rushing record for most yards by a quarterback. He rushed for 1,815 yards last year. Lynch rushed for 126 yards against Bowling Green to break his own FBS record, boosting his 2013 season total to 1,881 yards. ... Bowling Green sophomore RB Travis Greene, a converted wide receiver, needed 22 yards to break the school's season rushing yards record, set by Fred Durig in 1951. Greene rushed for 133 yards on Friday night to break Durig's record and set another school record with his ninth 100-yard plus rushing game this season.
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