While Northern Illinois University’s appearance in the 2015 Marathon Mid-American Conference Championship game was its sixth straight as MAC West Champions, NIU had never before come into the game with a true freshman walk-on quarterback who began the year fifth on the Huskie depth chart as the team’s starting signal caller.
After a rocky first half that saw the NIU offense unable to get its running game going behind freshman passer Tommy Fiedler while the defense worked hard at containing the high-flying offense of the Bowling Green Falcons, the Huskies showed the never-quit attitude of champions before falling, 34-14.
NIU is now 3-3 in its six championship appearances this decade and fell to 8-5 on the season. Bowling Green improved to 10-3 with the win.
“Give Bowling Green a lot of credit,” NIU Head Coach Rod Carey said. “They beat us in all three phases. They got the running game going, and we couldn’t get our running game going. Turnovers hurt us and our defense was on the field too long.”
Bowling Green ran for 266 yards on 53 carries and scored three rushing touchdowns, led by Travis Greene’s 183 yards on 29 carries and two TDs.
The Huskies mustered just 72 yards of total offense in the first half, with 53 on the ground and 19 passing, and had only 59 rushing yards at the end of the third quarter. NIU finished the game with 107 yards on 38 carries while Fiedler completed 12-of-28 passes with a touchdown and three interceptions. The Huskies converted only two-of-13 third downs and were one-of-five on fourth down conversions.
Down 28-0 early in the third quarter after BGSU quarterback Matt Johnson hit Roger Lewis on a 45-yard slant for a score, the Huskies quickly responded with consecutive touchdowns to cut the Falcons’ lead in half.
Immediately after the score, the Huskies drove 43 yards in seven plays to the BG 36-yard line before the Falcons’ Alfonso Mack intercepted a Fiedler throw on fourth-and-eight at the two-yard line. But spurred on by the best offensive series of the game, NIU used the momentum on its next drive to get on the scoreboard as Fiedler led a five-play, 46-yard drive. He hit Kenny Golladay for 15 yards on fourth-and-11 to the BG 32-yard line before finding tight end Desroy Maxwell up the seam for a touchdown.
The Huskie defense forced an incompletion on fourth-and-two, but then the NIU offense was stopped on its fourth-down try. Two plays later, Johnson’s pass was intercepted by FBS interception leader Shawun Lurry, who stepped in front of a sideline throw to score on a 64-yard interception return, putting the Huskies within 14 points with 2:19 left in the third quarter.
Lurry’s interception was his nation-leading ninth of the season and the sophomore set the NIU record for career interception return yards on the play with 273 on the year. He now leads all of the FBS in that statistic as well this season.
NIU could not sustain the momentum, though, as Bowling Green went to Greene on the ground to grind out a 12-play, 83-yard drive in response. Huskie senior Marlon Moore did block the PAT, but the Falcons made their 34-14 lead hold over the final 12:32 of the game.
The Huskies managed to drive to the Bowling Green 11 on their next possession, but on fourth-and-one, Fiedler was sacked and NIU did not threaten again.
Lurry was named NIU’s Most Valuable Player while senior Boomer Mays had a career-high 16 tackles, nine solo, and Sean Folliard contributed 10 to tie his career high.
The first four possessions of the game saw defense win the day until Bowling Green took a 7-0 lead with 4:15 on the clock in the first quarter. After a Jake Ambrose punt, the Falcons drove 69 yards in 10 plays and 2:40 and scored on a four-yard run by Fred Coppet.
NIU looked to answer with a nine-play, 53-yard drive to the Bowling Green 12-yard line early in the second quarter. But on fourth-and-one, the exchange between Fiedler and Aregeros Turner was fumbled and BG recovered on its own 22-yard line, which was the first of five Huskie turnovers, a season high for the team.
Bowling Green drove all the way to the NIU four-yard line as the Falcons looked to double their lead. But on fourt- and-two, the Huskie defense stopped Coppet for no gain and the NIU offense took over.
Stuck deep in their own territory, the Huskie offense could not get anything going and was forced to punt. BG got the ball inside NIU territory and drove to the 22-yard line, but on second-and-12, Johnson’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by Brandon Mayes. Mayes attempted to bring the ball out, but a penalty once again saw the Huskies starting on their own four-yard line.
Three plays later, BG got the ball back when Jordan Huff’s fumble was recovered by the Falcons at the NIU 19. This time Bowling Green took advantage of the NIU miscue, scoring on a two-yard completion from Johnson to Derek Lee with 5:28 to go in the second quarter for a 14-0 lead.
The next Huskie possession once again resulted in a three-and-out and Bowling Green began its subsequent drive on its own 16-yard line. The Falcons methodically drove downfield using the rushing of Greene and passing of Johnson until Greene escaped for a 25-yard touchdown run with 1:04 left in the half to make the score 21-0 at the break.
NIU, which will play in a bowl for a MAC-record eighth consecutive season, will learn its bowl destination Sunday.