Falcons go down in MAC Championship game

The defending Mid-American Conference Champion Bowling Green Falcons came into this year’s championship game a five point underdog.

Northern Illinois covered that point spread and more with an impressive 51-17 win against the team that ruined their undefeated season one year ago.

“It was pretty obvious that was an outstanding football team that we played out there today,” said head coach Dino Babers. “They are a fine representative of our league champion. That’s a dog on good football team.”

The Huskies came out and dominated the Falcons in every facet of the game, excluding Joe Davidson’s performance punting the ball for the Falcons.

The Huskies did whatever they wanted on the field Friday night. They totaled 552 yards of total offense, 334 on the ground and 218 through the passing game. They also set a conference record for points in a MAC Championship game.

“The game plan was to come out and stop the run early and try to make it into a throw game for them,” linebacker Gabe Martin said. “They were successful in both aspects. They were able to throw and run the ball today, we didn’t play well defensively.”

The inconsistencies from the past two weeks that the Falcons were trying to put behind them were on display once again, for a crowd of 15,110 to witness.

Despite those inconsistencies there were short glimpses of life from the struggling Falcons.

It looked as if all of their previous struggles were behind them in the first drive, as they drove 57 yards in six plays to the NIU 24-yard line. But, just when it looked as the Falcons would put it together back came their inconsistency.

The play after the Falcons were moved to the 24-yard line due to a NIU penalty, quarterback James Knapke threw an interception at the NIU 10-yard line.

Instead of getting points of some kind on that drive, their defense took the field.

Although that turnover did not lead to NIU points it was one of the three times the Falcon offense would enter the red zone in that half.

“We started off the game hot. We knew we wanted to come out and pound them and hopefully after that we could open it up deep,” Dieter said. “They did a good job with their corners and after that it just felt like we were in an uphill battle.”

The most important play in the first half for the Falcons was made my wide receiver Gehrig Dieter when the Falcons were down 13-0.

The Falcons were facing a third and eight on the NIU 42-yard line. The previous play Knapke had overthrown Ryan Burbrink down the right sideline.

This time he looked left and under threw Dieter a bit, but Dieter adjusted and jumped over the corner back to make the catch and jog into the end zone.

“The corner was pressing me and I won the battle at the line. James threw it a little under me and the coaches were telling me to be aggressive to the ball when it’s in the air,” Dieter said. “That’s what I did and it came up successful.”

That gave the Falcons their first points of the game with 9:26 to go in the second quarter.

“I felt a spark in the whole team,” Dieter said. “I thought that things were rolling and then it hit halftime.”

The momentum looked to be changing as the defense came out and forced a three-and-out, but the Falcons followed that with a three-and-out of their own.

The Huskies took advantage of the Falcon offense slumping again, as they scored a touchdown before halftime. The Falcons added a Tyler Tate field goal, but went into halftime trailing 20-10.

The second half was all NIU, as they scored on their first three drives and the Falcons went three-and-out. That run by the Huskies allowed them to jump out to a 37-10 lead with 4:07 to go in the third quarter.

“We came out at halftime and they put one on us and that was obviously disappointing and when that happens on offense you have to find a way to match,” Babers said. “With the three and out and no match then with them doing that again, it really closed the door on what was going to be happening in the second half.”

From there the game was just about over when Babers pulled Knapke and put in freshman quarterback Cody Callaway.

The Falcons would add a late touchdown, but NIU would add two and walk to their 51-17 win. The win moves the Huskies to 11-2 on the year and the Falcons to 7-6.

The Falcons have now lost three in a row, but are bowl eligible.

“It sucks to be honest. Losing three in a row, all tough games,” Martin said. “It’s tough but the best thing about this game is that we get another opportunity.”