DETROIT — The Northern Illinois University Huskies used big plays on defense and a balanced offensive attack, amassing 552 yards of total offense while holding the Bowling Green State University Falcons to just 17 points in a 51-17 MAC championship win.
Drew Hare earned most valuable player honors with 12 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown on the ground and completing 29 of 49 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
Cameron Stingily led all runners with 117 yards on 15 carries and notching two touchdowns.
“I’m super-excited for our university, our athletic department, our staff and most importantly our players,” said NIU head coach Rod Carey.
“This was our best game at the right time. These kids set out what they wanted to do back in January [win the conference championship] and it’s because of their hard work that we’re here. You don’t get here without hard work.”
After building a 20-10 halftime lead, the Huskies’ offense asserted itself in the second half, scoring 24 unanswered points to put the game out of reach.
On the opening possession in the third quarter, NIU scored a touchdown on a four-yard pass from Hare to Juwan Brescacin to take a 27-10 lead after driving the ball 68 yards on 10 plays.
A Stingily run of 43 yards set up a two yard Stingily touchdown plunge to make the score 34-10 at the 8:18 mark in the third quarter.
After stopping the Falcons on a fourth and one, NIU took the ball from its own 38 yard line and drove 56 yards for its third score. A 31-yard pass from Hare to Brescacin to the Bowling Green four yard line set up a 23-yard Christian Hagan field goal to make the score 37-10 going into the fourth quarter.
NIU began the final frame by sacking the Falcons quarterback on fourth down and drove the ball 49 yards, taking advantage of a continuity of downs play in which NIU fumbled, Bowling Green recovered and fumbled the ball back to the Huskies. NIU upped the score to 44-10 on a two yard Stingily touchdown run.
The Falcons scored a touchdown with 5:56 remaining to make the score 44-17 before Jordan Huff capped the scoring with a touchdown run with 48 seconds left.
The Huskies got on the board first with a five-yard touchdown run by Hare that capped an eight-play, 60-yard drive that chewed 2:50 off the clock.
NIU’s second score was set up by an interception by Paris Logan to the Bowling Green 25 yard line. The Huskies would convert Hagan’s 35 yard field goal attempt for a 10-0 lead with 1:58 left in the first quarter.
“We knew it was a tempo offense and we practiced fast and we played fast,” said senior safety Dechane Durante (Charlotte, N.C./Vance) who recorded a pair of interceptions. “Our offense helped us with some long drives. We knew they were going to throw downfield and I’m just happy we played our best game tonight, hands down.”
On their next possession, the Huskies took advantage of good field position and scored on a 32-yard field goal by Hagan after a 23-yard drive to give NIU a 13-point lead.
Bowling Green scored on a 42 yard acrobatic touchdown catch and run by Gehrig Dieter from James Knapke. The extra point made the score 13-7 with 9:33 left in the first half.
The Huskies responded with a touchdown right before the half, marching 68 yards on 10 plays. A five-yard pass from Hare to Luke Eakes and extra point conversion gave NIU a 20-7 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the half.
The Falcons responded with a 46-yard field goal as the first half expired after a short kickoff gave BG the ball at its own 41.
The 51 points scored by the Huskies also set a MAC Championship Game record, bettering the previous high of 49 scored by Marshall in 2002 and Miami (Ohio) in 2003.
NIU will learn its bowl fate Sunday. For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www,niuhuskies.com.