For the second time in three years, Bowling Green is the Mid-American Conference champion.
The Falcons squared off with Northern Illinois in the league title game for a third straight season. NIU came out on top in blowout fashion in 2014, but it was all Bowling Green this time around.
In a 34-14 win at Ford Field in Detroit, Dino Babers’ high-powered offensive lived up to its billing, racking up 502 total yards – including 267 yards on the ground. If not for a few ill-advised interceptions by senior quarterback Matt Johnson, the margin of victory may have been greater for Bowling Green. Nonetheless, Johnson threw for 235 yards and two scores in the win while Travis Greene (183 yards, 2 TDs) and Fred Coppet (86 yards, TD) combined for 269 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Both offenses were sluggish to start, but the Falcons finally got on the board when Coppet scored from four yards out late in the first. And while the Northern Illinois offense, which was led by freshman walk-on Tommy Fiedler at quarterback, continued to struggle, BGSU extended its lead to 21-0 by halftime.
The Falcons added on to that lead on their first drive of the second half when Johnson hit Roger Lewis in stride for a 45-yard score.
But with the deficit up to 28-0, Northern Illinois didn’t fold.
Fiedler, making his first career start in place of Drew Hare and Ryan Graham (both out with injuries), got the Huskies on the board by connecting with Desroy Maxwell for a 32-yard touchdown late in the third.
A few minutes later, NIU’s Shawun Lurry stepped in front of a Johnson pass and returned it 64 yards for a score, cutting Bowling Green’s lead to 28-14.
All of a sudden, the Huskies were right back in the game. But that didn’t last long.
On the ensuing possession, Johnson led the Falcons on a 12-play, 83-yard scoring drive which was capped off with a one-yard Greene TD run to bring the lead back to three scores.
From then on out, Bowling Green’s defense took care of things, forcing a turnover on downs and intercepting Fiedler twice to seal the win.
The win improves Bowling Green’s record to 10-3 heading into a bowl game. It’s unlikely, but winning a conference championship means the Falcons are eligible to represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl game. That distinction will probably go to the winner of Saturday’s AAC title game between No. 19 Houston and No. 22 Temple.
On a different note, the victory could be the final game in the Bowling Green career of Babers. In just his second season with the program, Babers’ name has been linked to various FBS openings – including Syracuse. Babers, whose name was also linked to the UCF job (which has since been filled by Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost), addressed the speculation head-on earlier in the week, admitting that his mindset could shift toward other jobs after Friday night’s game.
On the other side, Northern Illinois drops to 8-5 with the loss. The Huskies are headed to a bowl game for the eighth straight season.
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