N Illinois routs Bowling Green 51-17 for MAC title
DETROIT (AP) Northern Illinois had all year to stew over last season's conference title game, when its undefeated run fell apart in shocking fashion against Bowling Green.
When the same two teams returned to the same stadium for a rematch, the Huskies triumphed with a record-setting performance.
Drew Hare threw for two touchdowns and ran for one, and Northern Illinois wrested the Mid-American Conference title from Bowling Green in emphatic fashion Friday night, beating the Falcons 51-17. The Huskies set MAC championship game marks for points and margin of victory.
''Last year, we weren't prepared for their tempo, and they ran all over us,'' Northern Illinois defensive back Dechane Durante said. ''This year, we knew what to expect, and we were able to shut them down.''
The Huskies (11-2) are MAC champions for the third time in four years. Bowling Green interrupted that run last season when the Falcons spoiled Northern Illinois' bid to go undefeated, but the Huskies made the most of their chance to avenge that defeat.
Unlike the last couple years, Northern Illinois isn't making a push for one of college football's top bowls, but there is little question about where the Huskies stand in their league. This was their fifth straight appearance in the MAC title game.
''They left no doubt in everyone's mind who the best football team in the conference is this year,'' Bowling Green coach Dino Babers said.
Bowling Green (7-6) came into the game with one of the nation's most fast-paced offenses, but the Falcons were upstaged by Northern Illinois, which finished with 552 yards on 100 plays from scrimmage. The previous record for points in the MAC title game was 49 by Marshall in 2002 and Miami (Ohio) in 2003. The most lopsided final score was Central Michigan's 35-10 win over Miami in 2007.
The Huskies led 20-10 at halftime Friday before breaking the game open in the third quarter. Hare threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Brescacin, and Cameron Stingily's 2-yard scoring run made it 34-10.
''I would say up front, I could tell that they were getting a little tired,'' Northern Illinois offensive lineman Tyler Loos said. ''They started to get a little bit easier to move, and you could just tell, with their hands on their hips and everything, they were getting a little bit tired.''
Hare threw for 218 yards, successfully guiding Northern Illinois to another title after replacing Jordan Lynch, the Heisman Trophy candidate who played quarterback for the Huskies last year. The Huskies also lost safety Jimmie Ward, a first-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers.
The Falcons had a different quarterback for this season's title game as well after losing Matt Johnson to a hip injury in the season opener.
Bowling Green's James Knapke was intercepted twice in the first quarter - both times when the ball bounced to the defensive back who picked it off. The Huskies led 13-0 when Bowling Green finally answered in the second quarter. Gehrig Dieter outfought freshman defensive back Mayomi Olootu for Knapke's deep pass, hauling it in for a 42-yard touchdown.
But Hare threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Luke Eakes with 25 seconds left in the half.
Bowling Green set this year's season high for FBS teams when the Falcons ran 113 plays from scrimmage in a win over Indiana on Sept. 13, according to STATS. Northern Illinois didn't quite reach that mark, but the Huskies had 79 plays through three quarters Friday.
''We weren't able to match them in any facet of the game. They just had too much strength and speed for us on both sides of the ball,'' Babers said. ''Last year, it seemed like they were a one-man offense and then the defense was built around the safety. I was interested to see how they were going to respond to losing two superstars, and the answer is that they've become a much more complete team. They now play 22 deep instead of relying on a couple guys.''
The title game capped a dominant year for the MAC's West Division, which went 15-3 against the East during the regular season. After holding off challenges from Toledo and Western Michigan within the division, Northern Illinois had little trouble in its long-awaited rematch with the Falcons.
Stingily had 116 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns, and Durante intercepted two passes.
Northern Illinois punt returner Chad Beebe left with a broken arm in the first quarter.