Northern Illinois rallies in fourth quarter to snatch MAC title from Buffalo

By Dwjuan Frazier
Special to The Detroit News
D.J. Brown of the Northern Illinois Huskies scores the game winning touchdown with Spencer Tears and Max Scharping while playing the Buffalo Bulls during the MAC Championship at Ford Field.

Detroit — The last thing Northern Illinois wanted was a high-scoring contest. It wouldn't bode well given its identity as a stubborn defensive team with a serviceable offensive unit. 

Coming in, the Huskies averaged 19.9 points per game — the ninth-lowest average in the FBS — and scored 30 or more in a game just twice this season. 

Add a 30-point outing to this list as Northern Illinois (8-5, 6-2 West) capped an 8-play, 70 yard drive with a go-ahead TD pass from quarterback Marcus Childers to senior D.J. Brown to defeat Buffalo, 30-29, in Friday's Mid-American Championship game at Ford Field.  

"I've been seeing this in practice," sixth-year Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said of his team's offensive performance. "I just haven't seen it on the game field to the extent that it's there. It wasn't perfect tonight, but it was certainly explosive and what I've been seeing in practice." 

Childers completed 21-of-33 for 300 yards and four TDs. 

Buffalo (10-3, 7-2 East) can put points up in a hurry, averaging 35.2 coming into the game. And it did just that in the first half. 

Led by quarterback Tyree Jackson (Muskegon Mona Shores), Buffalo (11-2, 8-1 East) marched 94 yards on each of its first two drives, taking 13 and 11 plays. Jackson, who completed 18-of-35 for 25 yards and two TDs, capped the second drive with 13-yard TD strike to receiver Anthony Johnson. He connected with Johnson again on 26-yard TD pass to make it 19-7 with 5:41 left before the intermission. 

Buffalo's first-half attack was bolstered by running backs Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks, who combined for 144 yards rushing and a TD each, including a 9-yard run by Patterson on the Bulls' opening drive of the second half. 

After the Patterson score, Northern Illinois wrested control of the game from Buffalo, scoring TDs on back-to-back drives in the second half to cut Buffalo's lead to five with 12:51 remaining.

Buffalo's prolific offensive attack was thwarted in the second half by the Northern Illinois defense — ranked No. 1 in the MAC — as it harassed Jackson with pressure from MAC Defensive Player of the Year Sutton Smith and defensive end Josh Corcoran, who entered the game in the second half after serving a first-half suspension. 

"Having Josh back was really nice just based off of his experience," Smith said. "He's been playing four years. It was really nice to have him back to take some of the pressure off of my side and even things out." 

The Huskies defense stopped a desperation drive by Buffalo, forcing a turnover on downs with 21 seconds left. 

"In all my years of coaching, this is my favorite group to be around, and I've won championships before," Carey said. 

The Huskies last won the MAC championship in 2015.