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BG faces rival, NIU

Marking the start of Mid-American Conference play, the Bowling Green State University football team faces Northern Illinois tonight in what should be a heated battle.

Both teams have enjoyed successful seasons the last two years, and their matchups against one another have been key for their quest to be MAC champions.

Two years ago, the Huskies battered BG in Dekalb, Ill., and sent them home with a loss. Last year, it was the Falcons turn as they played 60 solid minutes of football to pay NIU back.

This year, it is the rubber match at Northern in what has become a rivalry game between the two schools.

“This is a big game,” said BG head coach Gregg Brandon. “Any time you go on the road in our league, it’s tough.”

The Falcon team that took the last road trip to Dekalb in 2002 did not have near the experience they do now.

“Our players have been in this environment now,” Brandon said. “When we went there two years ago, that was the first big game that Bowling Green has had in a number of years and quite frankly, we laid an egg.”

With the experience they gained since that time, they know what to do when they take the field.

“We’re all business,” said wide receiver Cole Magner. “Northern’s a very good team and if we don’t go in there as intense or more intense than them, then it’s going to be a long game.”

The ’04 Huskies team will bring somewhat of a new look tonight, as A.J. Harris is starting at running back, where Michael Turner starred the last two years, and Phil Horvath most likely will start at quarterback due to an injury to Josh Haldi, who only attempted one pass this year before being hurt.

“(NIU) hasn’t done anything different with Horvath than they do with Haldi,” said Brandon. “They’re still going to run their runs and passes, and that’s who they are.”

Harris has a banged up shoulder as well, but it should not keep him off the field.

BG received a boost this week as defensive tackle Matt Leininger will suit up after serving a two-game suspension. Defensive back Jelani Jordan is back to full health and will be in the starting lineup.

Two years ago, the Falcons were overwhelmed by the crowd noise in Dekalb. This time, they will be ready for what is to come.

“We practiced crowd noise,” Brandon said. “We will be prepared.”

The players have been subjected to hearing the NIU fight song during practice to get them ready for what it will be like during the game.

“You try to keep (the fight song) out of your head,” said defensive tackle Mike Thaler. “You don’t really hear what they’re saying, but you hear noise.”

The game begins at 7 p.m. and will air on ESPN2.

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