MAC Notebook: Falcons clinch title game bid

The Sports Xchange

November 15, 2015 at 6:54 pm.

Sep 26, 2015; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Bowling Green Falcons wide receiver Ronnie Moore (5) evades a tackle from Purdue Boilermakers linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (4)  during the second half of the game at Ross Ade Stadium. The Bowling Green Falcons defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 35 to 28.  Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 26, 2015; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Bowling Green Falcons wide receiver Ronnie Moore (5) evades a tackle from Purdue Boilermakers linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (4) during the second half of the game at Ross Ade Stadium. The Bowling Green Falcons defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 35 to 28. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

In a matchup of two of the hottest teams in the Mid-American Conference, Bowling Green captured its third straight East Division title with a 41-27 triumph over Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.

The matchup between the first-place teams from the East and West Divisions failed to live up to the hype. The Falcons (8-2, 6-0) snapped Western Michigan’s five-game winning streak by allowing just seven points in the second half. The Falcons will play the winner of the West Division in the MAC Championship game on Dec. 4 in Detroit.

“I’m proud of those guys,” BGSU coach Dino Babers said. “Western got a lot of numbers on us, but they didn’t get a lot of points. And when you play us, we’re going to score points. If you don’t match us, it’s only a matter of time before the score doesn’t look right, and you have to scrap the run to pass the ball.”

Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson completed 23 of his 41 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns, his first time all season not throwing for 300-plus years, though the heavy rain hampered both teams in the second half.

For Western Michigan, the loss was particularly painful considering the Broncos (6-4, 5-1) were in a prime position as the only West Division team without a conference loss. The Broncos still have a shot at winning the division if they can beat Northern Illinois and Toledo in their final two games.

Toledo stayed in the thick of the West race by defeating Central Michigan 28-23 to improve to 8-1 and 5-1.

“Obviously [the loss] last week was tough, but you know what? It’s a long football season. You’re going to have your ups and your downs,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. “… Quite honestly, I thought our kids came back with unbelievable focus.”

The Rockets and Falcons have more than just bragging rights for their annual I-75 clash on Nov. 17 in Bowling Green. The Falcons would love nothing better than to possibly knock their local rivals out of the West Division race. The Falcons are playing for nothing other than pride and inch closer to a 10-win season, while Campbell has yet to lose to Bowling Green in his four-year tenure.

Northern Illinois (7-3, 5-1), Toledo and Western Michigan all are tied atop the West standings at 5-1, but the Huskies have already beaten Toledo and play Western Michigan this week.

The Huskies defeated Buffalo 41-30 for their sixth straight victory, with Kenny Golladaay catching nine passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Graham, in his first college start, completed 15-of-24 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns. NIU coach Rod Carey said he was pleased with Graham’s performance despite him throwing an interception for a touchdown. Graham played the second half of NIU’s win at Toledo and now gets an opportunity to play his first extended action at home against Western Michigan.

“This being his first start, I thought he played well,” Carey said. “I put him in a bad position on the fourth down play where he threw the pick six. That was completely my fault and I won’t do that again. So I take that one off him, but the fumble he’s got to have a little bit better ball security there. Other than that and maybe the one long pass where he had Kenny open, but he overthrew him a touch. I think he played pretty well. It’s different than even the game before when you come off the bench, compared to when you’re starting and you have to go through the whole game. So I’m pretty pleased. Him being at home he should be more comfortable, but I think he’s just getting comfortable with everything right now.”

The Huskies and Broncos now are set to battle in DeKalb in a game that will go a long ways toward determining the West champion. Current WMU coach and former NIU wide receiver and assistant coach P.J. Fleck returns to his home state, where he grew up 15 minutes away from DeKalb.

The Broncos have one of the best offensives in the conference, capable of running the ball with Jarvion Franklin or Jamauri Bogan or throwing the ball to receivers Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis.

“Western obviously a good football team,” Carey said. “It’s going to be a battle. Year three in their system and you can tell the difference on film. They understand what their trying to do. Very talented, really a lot of respect for Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman, and not to mention their backs and their quarterback too. They have probably have one the best O-lineman in this conference in Willie Beavers, who I have a lot of respect for.”

AKRON (5-5, 3-3)

Game: Akron 37, Miami (Ohio) 28. Akron senior kicker Robert Stein drilled a 50-yard field goal with less than three minutes left to seal the victory for the Zips in Oxford. The Zips led 27-7 at halftime, but Miami outscored the visitors 21-10 in the second half. Akron finished with 432 yards of total offense, including 211 on the ground. Senior running back Conor Hundley ran for a team-best 110 yards and career-high three touchdowns.

Takeaway: Oddly, the Zips are a perfect 4-0 when leading at halftime this season. The Zips have won five games to equal their win total from the 2013 and 2014 season. Akron’s defense had two key interceptions in the third quarter.

Next: vs. Buffalo, Nov. 21.

BALL STATE (3-6, 2-3)

Bye Week

Next: at Ohio, Nov. 17.

BOWLING GREEN (8-2, 6-0)

Game: Bowling Green 41, Western Michigan 27: Travis Green rushed for a career-high 170 yards and scored three touchdowns to lead the Falcons to their third straight MAC East Division title. The Falcons (8-2, 6-0) have won seven straight games and snapped WMU’s five-game winning streak. The Falcons’ defense limited WMU’s high-scoring offense to seven points in the second half, including holding them scoreless in the fourth quarter.

BGSU quarterback Matt Johnson threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns and Roger Lewis caught two touchdown passes.

Takeaway: The Falcons’ defense has been impressive in the last month. The Falcons look like a formidable team with their high-scoring offense suddenly aided by a stout defense.

Next: vs. Toledo, Nov. 17.

BUFFALO (5-5, 3-3)

Game: Northern Illinois 41, Buffalo 30. Buffalo scored 27 points in the second half but couldn’t overcome a 25-point deficit in dropping its fifth game of the season to fall to .500 at 5-5. Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata revived the offense in the second half, finishing with 354 yards passing and two touchdowns, but he threw three interceptions.

Takeaway: The Bulls showed some character with a second-half comeback, though a sluggish first-half spoiled a potential upset bid. The Bulls have to win one of their remaining two games to become bowl-eligible.

Next: at Akron, Nov. 21.


Game: Toledo 28, Central Michigan 23. Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns to help the Rockets overcame a late rally by Central Michigan. The Chippewas fell behind 21-0 in the second quarter, but stormed back behind quarterback Cooper Rush, who completed 33 of 52 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns.

“Very disappointed, we had a chance to win,” CMU coach John Bonamego said. “The bottom line is Toledo made more plays than we did and we hurt ourselves with a few mistakes.”

Takeaway: The Chippewas had an opportunity to send a message to the rest of the conference and bowl officials, but fell short in the end. The Chippewas, in essence, are almost eliminated from the MAC West race and fell to 5-5 overall and 4-2 in the league.

Next: at Kent State, Nov. 18.


Game: UMass 28, Eastern Michigan 17. Brogan Roback threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns and Dustin Creel caught a season-high 10 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown but UMass finished with 439 total yards and converted eight of its 16 third-down attempts. Eastern Michigan had 256 yards passing, but just 59 on the ground.

Takeaway: The Eagles get an extended break before finishing their season at Central Michigan. Eastern Michigan’s tailspin late in the season has put a tamper on what was supposed to a season of growth. Against a team not known for stopping teams, the Eagles could only muster 25 minutes of time of possession and were 3-for-12 on third downs while tallying just 59 yards rushing.

Next: at Central Michigan, Nov. 27.

KENT STATE (3-7, 2-4)

Game: Ohio 27, Kent State 0. Ohio rushed for 333 yards and pitched its first shutout since 2013. George Bollas passed for 111 yards, but threw two interceptions for the Golden Flashes

Takeaway: Kent State’s season is suddenly going in reverse following a solid showing. Kent State has lost three in a row and four of its last five games, but have a chance to turn their fortunes around with a home game against Central Michigan and road contest against rival Akron.

Next: vs. Central Michigan, Nov. 18.

MIAMI (2-9 1-6)

Game: Akron 37, Miami 28. Miami outscored Akron 21-10 in the second half, but couldn’t erase a 27-7 halftime deficit. Miami failed to convert all three of its fourth down attempts and finished 6-for-16 on third downs, yet tallied 316 yards passing. Miami’s rushing attack netted just 68 yards compared to 211 for Akron.

Takeaway: Miami quarterback Billy Bahl had a solid outing with 206 yards passing and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Miami’s rushing game needs improvement next season, which will take pressure of Bahl and the offensive line and help the defense stay off the field more.

Next: at UMass, Nov. 21.


Game: Northern Illinois 41, Buffalo 30. Northern Illinois redshirt freshman quarterback Kent Graham passed for 190 yards and two touchdowns and Kenny Golladay caught nine passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. In his first career start, Graham overcame a pick-six and was sacked once, but led the Huskies to a 28-3 halftime lead.

Takeaway: Yes, there were some rough spots, but otherwise Graham’s first career start was a positive sign. The Huskies need a steady and productive Graham since losing Drew Hare to a season-ending injury. The Huskies control their own destiny, and have the fortune of playing their final two games (Western Michigan and Ohio) at home.

“Well it’s good to be back home this week,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “I never look farther than that. One week at a time. As far as looking back, we have played 10 games so far and six of them have been on the road with a three-in-a-row stretch there. Then road, home, road, home or however it’s sorted out here these last few weeks. It gets to be all a blur. It’s going to be definitely good to get home in front of our fans. Hoping for a nice night out in November so far. Two November games we’ve had have been fantastic evenings. So maybe we’ll get lucky and get another one of those.”

Next: vs. Western Michigan, Nov. 18.

OHIO (6-3, 3-3)

Game: Ohio 27, Kent State 0. Ohio recorded its first shutout since 2013 by holding Kent State to 80 yards rushing and 111 passing to improve to 6-3 on the season. The Bobcats finished with 333 yards on the ground and 447 yards of total offense. Derrius Vick rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown and passed for 73 yards and one score.

Takeaway: The Bobcats needed a victory to get back on track after losing their last three games in rather ugly fashion following a promising start. The Bobcats’ defense had allowed 49, 41 and 62 points in their last three defeats.

Next: vs. Ball State, Nov. 17.

TOLEDO (8-1, 5-1)

Game: Toledo 28, Central Michigan 23. Toledo scored 21 points in the first half and Kareem Hunt rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns to withstand a late rally by Central Michigan.

The Rockets are still alive in the MAC West race, but the loss all but eliminates the Chippewas. Hunt scored on a 41-yard run in the first quarter and added a three-yard score in the fourth quarter. Phillip Ely passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns and Alonzo Russell caught four passes for 86 yards. Toledo’s defense held CMU to 59 yards rushing, with cornerback Cheatham Norrils notching seven tackles, an interception and two pass breakups.

Takeaway: The Rockets redeemed themselves after a second-half collapse at home against Northern Illinois. The Rockets need some help to win the MAC West title, but have a tough matchup at Bowling Green this week. The Falcons have yet to lose in the conference, with their defense suddenly playing at a high level to match their potent offense. Toledo coach Matt Campbell has not lost to the rival Falcons in his four-year tenure.

Next: at Bowling Green, Nov. 17.

UMASS (2-8, 1-5)

Game: UMass 28, Eastern Michigan 17. Freshman running back Marquis Young carried the ball 32 times for a career-high 168 yards to lead UMass to its second win of the season. Senior Jamal Wilson added a career-best 112 yards rushing and two touchdowns and Tajae Sharpe caught four passes for 67 yards and a touchdown.

Takeaway: Victories have been rare for the UMass program in recent years, let alone a road win. Young’s solid game is a promising sign for a program seeking young, talented playmakers in the running game. UMass has a rare chance for a two-game winning streak when they host Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 21.

Next: vs. Miami (Ohio), Nov. 21.


Game: Bowling Green 41, Western Michigan 27. Western Michigan was held to seven points in the second half and Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson threw for three touchdowns to end WMU’s five-game winning streak.

The Broncos allowed two third-quarter touchdown runs by Travis Greene, and suffered from some mental mistakes late in the fourth quarter to fall from the unbeaten ranks in conference action.

Takeaway: This hurts considering the Broncos had their chances late in the game, but a hard-driving rainstorm caused some havoc and some questionable clock management hurt the Broncos. The Broncos have reserve their woes by defeating Northern Illinois in their next game.

Next: at Northern Illinois, Nov. 18.


–Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata became the school’s all-time leading passer after throwing for a season-high 354 yards against Northern Illinois. Licata, a senior, has passed for 8,936 yards and ranks ninth in MAC history with 74 career touchdowns.

–Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely bounced back from a late interception against Northern Illinois with a strong effort at Central Michigan. The Alabama transfer passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Rockets to a 28-23 win. Ely has topped the 300-yard mark four times this season and five times in his career at Toledo.

–Toledo running back Kareem Hunt, a junior, rushed for 113 yards and scored two touchdowns against Central Michigan. Hunt has rushed for 100-plus yards in 18 games during his career and now has 3,009 career rushing yards.

–Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush completed 33 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns against Toledo. It was the sixth straight game that Rush has thrown multiple touchdown passes, with his 349-yard total his third-highest of his career. Rush has thrown 22 touchdown passes this season.

–Bowling Green running back Travis Greene rushed for a career-best 170 yards against Western Michigan. Greene needs just five yards against Toledo to break the career rushing mark at Bowling Green.

–Bowling Green defense back Alfonso Mack has been one of the leaders behind his team’s defensive resurgence. Mack intercepted his fourth pass of the season against Western Michigan, and now has picked off a pass in four of his last five games.

–Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson led the nation after his team’s midweek win over Western Michigan in passing with 3,995 yards through 10 games. He has completed 291-of-421 passes for 36 touchdowns and thrown just four interceptions, completing 69.1 percent of his passes.

–Bowling Green senior left guard Alex Huettel has a special place in school history after starting his 50thstraight start against Ohio earlier this season. He has started more consecutive games than any player in school history. He has now started 51 straight games after the Western Michigan win.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s the goal of every team [to play in the MAC championship game] when they start the season. We clinched early, and that’s great, but we still have two more games on the schedule — and we can’t have any drop-off.” — Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson on winning the MAC East Division title.



1. Bowling Green captured its third straight MAC East Division championship. The Falcons will play for their second MAC title in three years on Dec. 4 at Ford Field in Detroit against the winner of the MAC West Division. The Falcons are undefeated in league play after knocking then-West leader Western Michigan. Bowling Green’s offense has received the bulk of the headlines this season, but the Falcons held WMU’s high-scoring offense to seven points in the second half and scoreless in the fourth quarter, including a key goal-line stand late in the game.

2. The MAC West race is a mess. The Broncos dropped from the unbeaten ranks in league play after losing to Bowling Green. Northern Illinois stayed atop the standings with an impressive win at Buffalo, and Toledo survived a late comeback at Central Michigan to form a three-way tie with NIU and WMU. The Huskies have the best shot of the three teams with their final two games — Western Michigan and Ohio — at home, but they have a redshirt freshman quarterback in Kent Graham leading the offense.

3. In his first career start, NIU freshman Kent Graham did a nice job leading the Huskies to a 41-30 win at Buffalo. Graham did throw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, but he managed to pass for 190 yards and two touchdowns, both to Kenny Golladay, who caught six passes for 141 yards and two scores. How Graham is able to perform against WMU’s aggressive defense is going to be a key factor for the Huskies. Graham, though, has done a nice job in road wins over Toledo and Buffalo, and now gets to play the next two games in DeKalb, which is 35 minutes away from his hometown.

4. Buffalo’s defense deserves more attention. Yes, the Bulls are an average team, but their defense has come up with numerous big plays. Cameron Lewis returned an interception for a touchdown against Northern Illinois — the Bulls’ seventh defense touchdown of the season to lead the country.

5. The Mid-American Conference announced on Nov. 12 that the conference will send one team to appear in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23 in San Diego against an opponent from the Mountain West Conference. The conference now has six guaranteed bowl appearances scheduled for the 2015 bowl season. The MAC will fill in San Diego as the backup to Army, which will not be bowl eligible this season.

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