Kalamazoo, Mich.— Northern Illinois University scored 24 unanswered points, and the Huskie defense forced six turnovers in NIU’s 31-21 come-from-behind victory over the Western Michigan University Broncos, sending the Huskies to Detroit for its fifth straight MAC Football Championship game appearance.
Down by four, the Huskie offense started the fourth quarter in Bronco territory and marched 47 yards in eight plays for the go-ahead score. Joel Bouagnon ran for 15 yards Akeem Daniels carried the ball 16 yards on the drive to help set up the score, a two yard touchdown run by quarterback Drew Hare with 11:37 remaining.
On the ensuing NIU possession, Hare scrambled 28 yards to the WMU 13 yard line on a key third down to set up a 27 yard field goal chance by Christian Hagan, but the ball bounced off the left upright to keep the Broncos within a field goal. Zach Terrell was sacked by Sean Folliard for a loss of 17 yards, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Jason Meehan. Drew Hare capped a four play, 26 yard drive with his second rushing touchdown from two yards out.
Terrell’s pass was intercepted by Dechane Durante to seal the Huskie win with 37 seconds remaining.
Down by 11 points midway through the third quarter, the Huskie defense stopped the Broncos on downs at the NIU 10 yard line, halting an eight minute drive and changing the momentum of the second half. Akeem Daniels capped a seven play, 90 yard drive with a 21 yard run to tighten the score to 21-17 with 5:07 left in the quarter, shortly after a 41 yard run by Joel Bouagnon to the WMU 31.
The Huskies scored a 65 yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, a pass from Drew Hare to Argeros Turner, but the NIU offense was inconsistent most of the first half, despite often starting with good field position.
The Broncos took advantage of two NIU turnovers and scored on their first four offensive possessions of the game to take a 19-7 lead. They answered the Huskies’ opening score with a 13 play, 72 yard drive capped by a 29 yard field goal by Andrew Haldeman with 7:15 remaining in the first quarter to close the deficit to 7-3. Then WMU quarterback reception by Zach Terrell hit Corey Davis for a 13 yard touchdown pass to close a seven play, 68 yard touchdown drive to give Western a 10-7 lead.
A fumble by Drew Hare on a high snap gave the Broncos a first and 10 on the NIU 28, setting up the Broncos’ third score. A pass interference penalty gave the Broncos first and goal from the three, and Jarvion Franklin took a second down play two yards into the end zone to give the Broncos a 16-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Akeem Daniels fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Broncos a first down at the NIU 26 yard line as time expired in the first quarter. The Huskie defense held, and Andrew Haldeman kicked his second field goal of the game to extend the Broncos lead to 12.
Northern Illinois took advantage of a muffed punt, and Brandon Mays recovered the ball at the Broncos’ 16 yard line before the offense stalled at the 11, but Richard Ash blocked the Huskie field goal attempt with 10:11 left in the first half.
WMU drove from their own 16 to the NIU two yard line, when Corey Thomas forced a fumble recovered by Dechane Durante. On the very next play, the WMU defense notched a safety when Cameron Stingily was called for an illegal chop block in the end zone, extending the Bronco lead to 21-7.
A 39 yard pass from Drew Hare to Da’Ron Brown to the WMU 29 with a minute left set up a 40 yard field goal attempt converted by Hagan to make the score 21-10 at the half.
The Huskies will face East champion Bowling Green in the Marathon MAC Football Championship game, Friday, Dec. 5, at Detroit’s Ford Field.