Talk about déjà vu.
One year has passed since NIU and Bowling Green faced off at Detroit’s Ford Field for Mid-American Conference bragging rights.
Jordan Lynch’s undefeated and nationally ranked Huskies, who were looking for a third straight MAC crown during their fourth consecutive appearance in the Motor City, somehow went home on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Coach Rod Carey and the 10-2 Huskies will battle the new BGSU Coach Dino Babers and his 7-5 Falcons at 6 p.m. Central Time. Fans can watch the action on ESPN2 or listen to the play-by-play on AM-560 from Chicago or 92.5-FM from DeKalb.
“Bowling Green is a championship football team. What more do you need to say about them? I have a ton of respect for Coach Babers and his staff,” Carey says.
“They’re a good football team. I know they aren’t happy with the last couple of games, but I certainly don’t gauge them or their season on those two games. It’s going to be a good game,” he adds. “They’re big, athletic, physical on offense, play with a great tempo. It’s just going to be a big-time challenge to go in there and try to be in a position in the fourth quarter that we want to be in.”
So, are the Huskies thinking revenge?
“I wouldn’t necessarily that it is revenge,” linebacker Boomer Mays says. “It’s the MAC Championship. Obviously, everyone that is there is there to win the MAC Championship. We just want to go out, play hard and do what we do and hopefully we win the game.”
Bowling Green “came out ready to play” last year, adds Mays, who teammates expect the same this week.
“They moved on us a lot and kind of threw us off,” offensive lineman Aidan Conlon says of last year, “so we just got to get our feet in the ground and move them.”
Consider this fall a reaction to December 2013, when NIU followed its championship defeat with a Poinsettia Bowl loss three weeks later.
“Obviously we didn’t finish strong last year. We lost the last two games we played, so coming into this year we were hungry,” Conlon says.
“We made it a goal this year to finish everything we started, not just at the end of the season but during games as well. We pride ourselves in being able to pull out those close games, and we know how to win and want to continue to do that.”
Even though Babers is new to Bowling Green, his face is a familiar one inside Huskie Stadium. When he brought the Eastern Illinois University Panthers to DeKalb last fall, they briskly scored 20 points on NIU within the opening minutes of the game.
Meanwhile, although offensive and defensive schemes have changed, the Falcons retain many of their championship players.
“They have fantastic skill, a really veteran offensive line, a good running back and their quarterback is really productive. He makes the whole thing go,” Carey says. “Both of their running backs are as good as anybody we’ve faced this year, and that’s Toledo, Ball State and Arkansas included in there.”
Defensive lineman Corey Thomas says he and his teammates “show each team respect” during the regular season.
Expect that to continue Friday, he says.
“We watch more film as the season goes on, and also we work on our technique, which is what it comes down to,” Thomas says. “We go against our own offense, which is an up-tempo offense, so what I’ve learned this season is that once we get lined up properly, we are a really good defense. We have been working in practice, and we are going to continue to work in practice.”
Carey, meanwhile, is second-to-none in his respect for his players.
“This team cares so much about each other that they don’t care who gets the stats. I think they care about winning, and that’s their focus. I think there’s always an inherent part of a football player being unselfish if they’re truly about winning, and we preach that you have to earn the right to play and touch the ball. That’s something that we talk about all of the time. You don’t just earn it and it’s yours. You have to earn it every day with everything that you do,” Carey says.
“It’s satisfying to see a young man grow up like that and take responsibility and ownership,” he adds. “We talk a lot here that one of the biggest difference between being a boy and being a man – a man says what he’s going to do and does it, and a boy talks about it and sometimes falls short. When you go ahead and earn that right, that’s a step toward manhood.”
Tickets remain on sale through NIU until 5 p.m. Thursday for just $20 each.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.