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Published: Saturday, 12/7/2013

SPORTS COMMENTARY

BG’s flawless game caps rise to top

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

DETROIT — Bowling Green State University is the champion of Mid-American Conference football.

The previous sentence was at best unexpected and at worst incredibly expensive.

And the Falcons could not care less.

They throttled Northern Illinois 47-27 on Friday night at Ford Field, throwing a giant stop sign in front of the Huskies’ undefeated season, Jordan Lynch’s Heisman Trophy hopes, and — almost surely — NIU’s bid for a second straight BCS-busting bowl journey.

That will cost the MAC about $7.5 million, above and beyond its normal BCS allotment shared by member schools.

The power conference commissioners and athletic directors, who privately and selfishly wanted nothing whatsoever to do with the Huskies again, are grinning ear-to-ear.

So is Dave Clawson, who orchestrated this upset just three years removed from a 2-10 season at BG.

Not that he relished inflicting any pain on NIU. He insisted that wasn’t part of the motivation. This game, he said, was all about the Falcons. And, boy, it was indeed all about them as they grabbed the MAC crown for the first time since 1992.

The BeeGees ran their winning streak to five games, capped off a 10-win campaign, and are sitting pretty waiting for Sunday’s bowl assignment announcement. The Huskies will await the same, but sans the expected excitement.

As much as this one seemed over by halftime, the BG crowd didn’t let out a very large, loud sigh until just 2 minutes, 44 seconds remained when Travis Greene streaked in from 16 yards out to cap a time-consuming drive that made the score 47-20.

That’s the kind of respect Lynch and the Huskies have earned during the past two seasons. No lead seems big enough. But that one was.

BG racked up an astonishing 381 yards and 31 points in the first half alone and led by 18 points at intermission.

That the Falcons’ defense put the kibosh on Lynch and his NIU teammates wasn’t a complete surprise. BG’s defense is awfully good. In fact, for the past four games it has been borderline great.

“They had a good game plan, and we didn’t execute,” Lynch said. “It’s tough. We don’t like to lose. It’s a tough one to swallow. But all the credit goes to BG. It was want-to-football out there, and their defense really wanted it.”

But equally great and equally deserving of high praise on this night was the Falcons’ offense, which stunned the Huskies in their fourth straight MAC championship game.

It was officially Matt Johnson’s coming-out party on the national stage.

If Lynch was a little off, Johnson was way on.

The Falcons’ redshirt sophomore completed 16 of 19 attempts for 294 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers in the first half. He tossed a fifth TD in the second half, shrugging off a little BG anxiety, perhaps, after Lynch had scooted the Huskies right down the field for a touchdown to open the second half.

It was never in doubt again, and neither was the MVP trophy that was presented to Johnson after the game.

“Northern Illinois has a great quarterback who deserves all the accolades he’s gotten,” BG’s Clawson said. “But we have a pretty good quarterback too, eh?”

By the finish, Johnson had a career-high 393 yards and a MAC title-game record five TD passes. Who had shared the previous record? That would be Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, and Byron Leftwich. Not bad company, but Johnson, who wasn’t BG’s starter as the season opened, left them in the dust.

And the Falcons turned a lot of NIU’s hopes and dreams, both as a team and individually, into dust.

“We’ve accomplished a lot, and this one game doesn’t define us,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “No question that Matt Johnson made a bunch of big plays.”

On a night, in fact, that BG made about every play it needed to pull off the upset.

“It’s a great night to be a Falcon,” Clawson said.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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