Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson is bear-hugged by teammate Christian Piazza as they celebrate their 47-27 win over Northern Illinois. Johnson threw for five touchdowns and 393 yards.
DETROIT — Call them the heroes of BCS automatic qualifier leagues. Call them the giant-slayers. Call them Heisman killers.
Another thing you can call the Falcons: Champions.
The Bowling Green State University football team claimed the school’s first Mid-American Conference title since 1992 in convincing fashion, blasting No. 16 Northern Illinois 47-27 in the MAC championship game on Friday at Ford Field.
The Falcons used an impressive offensive explosion in the first half, combined with a strong defensive effort that slowed down potential Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch, to knock off the Huskies.
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PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos from the game
BG (10-3) got a championship-game record five touchdown passes from Matt Johnson to ruin the BCS hopes of Northern Illinois (12-1), which needed a win to clinch a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
Despite the odds, it was a game coach Dave Clawson and his team always felt they could win.
“You guys are shocked, but we all thought we were going to win,” Clawson said. “We would have been absolutely crushed if we had not won this game.
“We came into this game truly believing we were the better team and that we were going to win.”
The Falcons set the tone for their first-half offensive onslaught shortly after taking the opening kickoff. BG drove 75 yards on just five plays, getting the drive started with a 23-yard pass from Matt Johnson to Ronnie Moore and capping it when Johnson found Tyler Beck alone in the right flat, and Beck rumbled 28 yards for the score.
Johnson said that first scoring drive really gave the offense confidence.
“Nerves are flying — a MAC championship, a nationally ranked team — and we were able to go down the field and score,” he said. “I think that helped us calm down. It also showed us that this team can be beat.”
Northern Illinois scored a touchdown on its first drive, but
the differences in the two drives were noticeable. The Huskies needed 11 plays to cover 73 yards and needed to convert a third-and-12 play before Lynch found Juwan Brescacin on a 14-yard touchdown toss.
Bowling Green struck quickly as Johnson hooked up with Moore on a 61-yard catch-and-run that set up a 26-yard field goal by Tyler Tate to make it 10-7.
The Falcons’ defense forced a three-and-out, and BG’s offense rolled 76 yards on five plays thanks in large part to back-to-back Johnson-to-Moore connections. The first covered 25 yards, and the second went 36 yards for a touchdown that made it 17-7 Falcons with 2 minutes, 32 seconds still to play in the first quarter.
Moore had four catches for 145 yards in the first quarter alone.
Northern Illinois cut its deficit to a touchdown when Mathew Sims pounded a 51-yard field goal on the second play of the second quarter, then saw Sims connect on a 45-yard field goal at 11:22.
But the Huskies failed on an attempted on-side kick — NIU recovered the ball, but drew a pair of flags on the play — and Bowling Green took advantage of the second chance.
The Falcons rolled 88 yards on nine plays, with Johnson finding Heath Jackson on a 22-yard scoring play.
Then with a minute left in the half, BG took the ball and covered 51 yards on eight plays, with Johnson finding Alex Bayer with a 12-yard scoring toss.
Johnson had 294 yards passing and four TDs in the first half alone. He finished with 21-of-27 passing for 393 yards and the five scores in leading BG to 31 first-half points, the most allowed by Northern Illinois in the first half this season.
The Huskies took the second-half kickoff and needed just 2:29 to score, with Lynch finishing a 64-yard drive with an eight-yard TD run.
Things seemed to be getting harried for the Falcons when Tate missed a 26-yard chip-shot field goal, but it looked as if Bryan Thomas partially blocked a 44-yard field-goal attempt by Sims on Northern Illinois’ next possession.
Bowling Green gained life from that play and drove 39 yards before Tate connected on a career-best 52-yard field goal on the second play of the final quarter.
From there the BG defense forced Lynch into his second interception of the night, this by Aaron Foster that included a 37-yard return to give the Falcons the ball on the Huskies’ 20.
After a Tate field-goal attempt was blocked, BG again forced Northern Illinois to turn the ball over on downs. Then the Falcons put the game on ice with a 10-play, 59-yard drive on the ground, with Travis Greene capping the drive with a 16-yard TD run on a fourth-down play. Greene finished with 133 yards on 26 carries.
The Huskies were able to drive 79 yards on 11 plays, with Lynch scoring from two yards out. But there were just 14 seconds on the clock, and BG covered an on-side kick to close out the victory.
Lynch completed 21-of-40 passes in the game for 219 yards and a touchdown but also threw two interceptions. He also finished with 126 yards rushing and a pair of scores on 26 carries.
Senior cornerback Aaron Foster, who added five tackles to go with his interception, gave the credit for the solid defensive effort to defensive coordinator Mike Elko.
"He really stressed us getting our runs fits and shifts right," Foster said. "I think we’re a great defense that plays really hard.
"When you run to the ball and really tackle, it’s hard for offenses to have success [against us]."
Ryland Ward and D.J. Lynch tied for the team lead in tackles for Bowling Green with 11 each as the Falcons limited NIU to 454 yards.
The Falcons finished with 574 yards of offense on just 67 plays, an average of 8.6 yards per play.