Rivalry with NIU at a peak

Elliott Schreiner and Elliott Schreiner

The Northern Illinois – Bowling Green game, where dreams have gone to die the past two years.

Bowling Green headed into Dekalb two seasons ago with an 8-0 record and a national ranking before the Huskies ruined any plans the Falcons had of having a dream season.

Northern was in a similar situation last season when they came to Bowling Green undefeated and ranked No. 12 in the nation and came away with a loss.

Each of the last two seasons, the winner of the game has went on to win the West division in the Mid-American Conference.

To say the least, this has been a see-saw rivalry featuring epic battles and most importantly, rowdy crowds.

The game last season recorded the second highest attendence in Doyt L. Perry Stadium history and garnered the attention of the national media.

The 2002 matchup in Dekalb is the game that most haunts BG players, as they were ambushed by the most hostile crowd any of them had seen up to that point.

“We went in two years ago and got smacked around,” BG center Scott Mruczkowski said. ” We never played in an environment like that. We didn’t know how to react … They’re very rude up there; they know when you’re doing badly.”

For Bowling Green players that were at that game, the crowd noise affected them as much almost as the NIU football team did.

“That’s the loudest crowd up to that point I’d played in front of,” BG defensive tackle Mike Thaler said. “It’s the biggest instance I can remember where the crowd affected the way we played.”

The loss put the Falcons into a tailspin, as they finished the season 9-3 after starting 8-0.

Since then, the Falcons played in front of packed houses in games against Purdue, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Miami University. The intensity of the MAC showed in the game at Oxford.

“I had a bottle of whiskey fly over my shoulder against Miami,” BG head coach Gregg Brandon said.

After all of the adversity while visiting hostile environments, BG feels more prepared to deal with a hostile crowd than they did two years ago.

“I don’t think we were ready at all [in 2002],” BG wide receiver Cole Magner said. “It was kind of a shock and we didn’t know how to handle it. But we’ve played in hostile crowds and we’re not going to let it happen this time.”

The team has been preparing for the noise in the BG Fieldhouse, where they have been practicing with the speakers blaring a familiar sound.

“Northern’s fight song,” Magner said. “That’s what they play, full blast.”

The only thing it appears the Falcons are not expecting Friday night is an empty house.

“We’re anticipating the same [as 2002],” Brandon said. “They’re going to be geeked up. It’s a big MAC West game early.”

The early stranglehold for MAC West supremacy will be decided Friday, so bring your earplugs.