NIU's defensive resurgence sets Childers up for herculean effort
DETROIT – Northern Illinois didn’t seem equipped to slow down Buffalo’s celebrated and explosive offense in Friday’s Mid-American Conference Championship Game. Its offense, while it did pick up chunks of yards at times in the first half, couldn’t match the seeming Buffalo juggernaut.
But NIU pulled off an improbable 19-point second-half comeback behind Marcus Childers’ Offensive Player of the Game effort as his three second-half touchdown passes led NIU (8-5) to a 30-29 win and its fourth MAC Championship Game victory.
[Photos by Dave Reginek for Shaw Media]
The NIU defense was revved up by the play of a returned Josh Corcoran, who sat out the first half for a targeting penalty incurred during a loss to Western Michigan last week. The pressure provided by him and defensive MVP Sutton Smith led to five second-half punts and a turnover on downs on Buffalo’s final possession to seal the title.
“I feel like we have one of the best defenses in the country, and so they came out in the second half and made the adjustments and started to stop their offense, it was no surprise to me,” Huskies wide receiver D.J. Brown said.
Childers soon after threw an intercepted pass that seemed to be the backbreaker for NIU’s Mid-American Conference title dreams. Then, with the spark of life provided by the Huskie defensive front in the form of repeated stops, Childers came alive through the air.
“The whole team responded really well,” Childers said. “They knew I had their back, and they had my back. We just went out there and executed the plays we had to.”
The redshirt sophomore quarterback ended the evening 21 of 33 passing for 300 yards (a career high) and four touchdowns through the air. His three second-half scoring strikes to D.J. Brown, Spencer Tears and Brown, respectively showed the poise Huskie fans may have expected of last year’s MAC Freshman of the Year.
“They executed some great plays, but them believing in me and the offensive line believing in me and knowing I’m capable of doing what I did tonight kind of gave me a confidence booster,” Childers said.
When Childers’ pass fell into the hands of an open Brown running a full stride beyond the Bulls’ cornerback, the pass softly nestled into Brown’s hands for his second score of the night with 1:09 to go for the lead and final score.
Each of Buffalo's first five drives ended in points and NIU found itself down 19 points after a Buffalo score with 11:25 left in the third quarter.
Thanks to Childers and the offensive explosion, the Huskies get their second-biggest comeback in a MAC title game – in 2011 they came back from 20-0 down to defeat Ohio for their first MAC title.
DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 30: The Northern Illinois Huskies enter the stadium before the start of the MAC Championship game against the Buffalo Bulls at Ford Field (Photo by Dave Reginek for Shaw Media)