BOWLING GREEN - The tone for this past weekend at Bowling Green State University was set late Friday afternoon, when the cast of ESPN's College GameDay was filming pieces to be broadcast later.
After his work was finished, Chris Fowler said to the roughly 500 fans whooping and hollering behind the set, “This is a great turnout. Usually we only get 10 or 15 people to wander by.''
No, crowds weren't a problem around Perry Stadium this weekend as the Falcons hosted the first meeting between two nationally ranked MAC schools in nearly 30 years. And BG players and coaches agreed the crowd played a part in the 23rd-ranked Falcons' 32-18 win over 12th-ranked Northern Illinois.
Despite a steady rain Saturday morning, an estimated 3,000 fans formed a backdrop to the GameDay set. Then 31,007 fans filled the stadium for the game, the second-largest crowd in BG's football history and the school's fourth football sellout.
The fans stood, banged 12,000 ThunderStix handed out before the contest, and generally made life miserable for the Huskies.
The huge crowd saw the Falcons jump out to a 14-point advantage less than three minutes into the game as BG took the opening kickoff and drove 81 yards in seven plays for a quick touchdown that quarterback Josh Harris said was crucial to the win.
“That first drive really set the tone,'' Harris said. “When you're that fired up and everything doesn't go your way, sometimes you can have a letdown. But when we were that fired up and we had that kind of success, it made us skyrocket and we were ready to go.''
DEFENSE DOMINATES: Lost in the Falcons' offensive explosion Saturday was the dominant performance by the defense, which held Northern Illinois to just 227 yards of total offense, 146 yards below its season average.
The Huskies had just 36 yards of total offense in the first quarter - and zero yards passing - and finished with just 62 yards in the first half. In the final quarter NIU had just 14 yards as the BG offense and defense combined to allow the Falcons to hold the ball for all but 1:57 of the period.
Bowling Green limited Northern Illinois to 39 or fewer yards on 12 of the Huskies' 14 drives, including three drives that gained zero yards and two others that went for negative yardage. When you include four more drives that gained fewer than 10 yards, the total offense in nine of NIU's drives totaled exactly 12 yards.
“They don't have a lot of stars - except for [cornerback Janssen] Patton. He gets my all-conference vote right now,'' said Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak. “But they play hard, they play together. They've got good schemes and they are well coordinated.''
Patton tied a school record with three interceptions against the Huskies, marking the second time this season and the third time in his career the senior has made three picks in one game. But Patton gave much of the credit to a pass rush that sacked NIU quarterback Josh Haldi six times and rushed his throws on several other occasions.
“It's not real hard to cover when the quarterback is running for his life,'' Patton said. “Everybody up front did a good job of applying pressure. It was a great job by those guys up front.''
THREE-DOT DATA: Yesterday's win was the Falcons' second over a ranked team this season. Purdue was ranked 16th in the country when BG beat the Boilermakers 27-26 at West Lafayette, Ind. But the Huskies, who were ranked 12th in the country, are the highest-ranked team the Falcons have ever beaten. ... Tailback P.J. Pope finished with a career-high 82 receiving yards, helped by a career-long 46-yard reception. ... Tight end Craig Jarrett's 44-yard catch on the game's second play also was a career best. ... Wide receiver Charles Sharon had a career-high 123 receiving yards on six catches, and his two touchdown receptions tied his career best. ... BG finished with 634 yards of total offense, the first time this season it had more than 500 yards and the third time it passed the 600 mark.
THE LAST WORD: Not everything went flawlessly in Bowling Green, as the hungry media in the Falcons' hockey press box found out Friday.
Normally the BG athletic department supplies pizza to the press box for each game, but no food arrived as the Falcons hosted Union College Friday.
When assistant SID Kris Kamann called the restaurant that sends the pizzas, he was assured that the delivery was made. In fact, the delivery person was bragging about having met Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit from GameDay.
Turns out the delivery mistakenly was made to the football press box, where Fowler and Herbstreit were doing their national radio show, instead of the hockey rink where the hungry media were finally fed late in the game.