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DETROIT — Ten years passed between appearances in the Mid-American Conference football title game for Bowling Green State University, which snapped the decade drought Friday night against Northern Illinois.
A return trip for the Falcons could come much sooner.
Pieces are in place for BG to control the East division for a while, with three young and talented players holding down spots at offensive skill positions as other premier programs in the league enter eras of uncertainty.
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All three of the youngsters — sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson, sophomore running back Travis Greene, and freshman receiver Ronnie Moore — had monster games in a 47-27 thrashing, establishing career days and, in Greene’s case, shattering a 61-year program record.
Johnson topped 3,000 yards passing, dissecting the previously unbeaten Huskies with touchdown passes to five different players. Johnson, who curiously was left off the All-MAC team this week, completed 21 of 27 attempts for 397 yards.
Moore, a shifty 5-foot-9 slot receiver, had a first quarter for the ages, hauling in four catches, all in excess of 20 yards. His 61-yard catch-and-run down the BG sideline set up the Falcons for a touchdown from the NIU 14.
The next time BG had the ball, Moore chalked up gains on consecutive plays of 25 and 36 yards, the latter resulting in a touchdown to go ahead 17-7. Moore escaped unnoticed from the slot and caught Johnson’s offering at the 10, jogging the rest of the way for his seventh TD catch of the year.
Moore also had an 11-yard run in the quarter.
Greene, the final piece to BG’s youthful triumvirate, established a program single-season rushing record, surpassing Fred Durig’s record of 1,444 from 1951. Needing 22 yards to match the mark, Greene rumbled for 133 yards and a score on 26 carries. Friday marked the ninth time Greene, who was a receiver before this season, eclipsed 100 yards.
Greene’s fumble before halftime was his first of the season, coming after All-MAC safety Jimmie Ward snuck up from behind Greene and poked the ball loose.
Other title-contending teams in the MAC could struggle in the coming years to equal BG’s offensive firepower. Northern Illinois, Ball State, and Toledo must replace All-MAC quarterbacks after this season. Ohio also will break in a new quarterback, while Buffalo loses excellent tailback Branden Oliver.
TATE RECORD: BG’s Tyler Tate set a personal record and tied the MAC title game mark with a 52-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. The kick, which trumped Tate’s 45-yarder in the Oct. 12 Mississippi State game, made the score 34-20 and boosted his season totals to 15 of 18.
LITTLE GIANT: Injuries throughout the year boosted Fremont Ross graduate James Spencer to second on the NIU running back depth chart. Spencer, a junior walk-on who began the year no higher than fifth on the hierarchy at his position, has become key late in the season.
He ran for two touchdowns in a West title-clinching win at Toledo on Nov. 20, filling in admirably for 1,000-yard rusher Cameron Stingily.
Spencer, a third-team All-Ohio selection with the Little Giants, caught five passes Friday for 63 yards. He had gains of 18 yards on the first two plays of a first-quarter series.
SHORT YARDS: Running back Fred Coppet and linebacker Justin Ford both missed the game for BG with concussion symptoms. ... NIU’s Jordan Lynch broke his own FBS record for quarterback rushing yards, which he set last year with 1,815. His new record stands at 1,881.