Walk-on freshman QB to lead NIU in MAC title game

The Sports Xchange

December 02, 2015 at 11:16 am.

Oct 24, 2015; DeKalb, IL, USA; Northern Illinois Huskies running back Joel Bouagnon (28) rushes the ball against the Eastern Michigan Eagles during the second half at Huskie Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois Huskies running back Joel Bouagnon  will need to have a big day against Bowling Green in order for the Huskies to win. Photo Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois and Bowling Green enter the Mid-American Conference championship game on the opposite end of the quarterback spectrum. The Falcons (9-3, 7-1 MAC East) will face the Huskies (8-4, 6-2 MAC West) on Friday at 8 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit on ESPN2.

Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey is dealing with numerous issues at the quarterback position, while Bowling Green coach Dino Babers has the luxury of relying on a steady senior in Matt Johnson.

For the Huskies, true freshman walk-on Tommy Fielder is slated to start his first collegiate game of his career against the Falcons after redshirt freshman Ryan Graham left the Ohio game with a leg injury. Fielder completed 9 of 17 passes for 117 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Fielder was the sixth string quarterback at the start of the fall camp, but injuries to numerous quarterbacks, including starter Drew Hare, caused Carey to be forced to use Fielder.

“There’s still an opportunity that (Graham) would play in the game, but Tommy will come in as our starter,” Carey said. “It’s one of those things where we’re all day-to-day, right? And some of us just little more day-to-day than others right now.”

Hare led the Huskies to the MAC Championship game win over the Falcons last season, helping avenge NIU’s loss to Bowling Green in the 2013 MAC title game. Hare, who threw for 1,962 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon in a win over Toledo on Nov. 3. Northern Illinois junior running back Joel Bouagnon should be focal point of the offense against the high-scoring Falcons. Bouagnon has rushed for 1,212 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.

“Anyone we’re putting in there is good enough to do the job,” Bouagnon said of the starting quarterback position. “We’ll be all right.”

Johnson is brimming with experience, and motivation. He missed most of last season with a hip injury, including the title game. He passed for five touchdown passes and was named the MVP in Bowling Green’s 47-27 triumph over Northern Illinois in the 2013 contest.

This season, Johnson has thrown for 4,465 yards with 41 touchdowns and six interceptions. He needs 22 yards to set the MAC’s single-season record for passing yards.

“He is operating at a level of a quarterback in their second year with this offense, and the only quarterback I’ve ever had go through two years in the system is the backup for Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo,” BGSU coach Dino Babers said.

The Huskies are playing in their sixth straight MAC title game, while the Falcons are making their third consecutive appearance. Bowling Green is averaging 44.2 points and 566 yards per game this season, allowing 27.8 points and 421.3 yards per contest.

Johnson has numerous prolific weapons to attack NIU’s defense. Running back Travis Greene has rushed for 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns and Roger Lewis has 76 catches for 1,401 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gehrig Dieter leads the Falcons with 82 receptions for 882 yards and nine touchdowns.

“I’ve never had a quarterback play at the level that Matt Johnson is playing,” Babers said.



–True freshman Tommy Fielder is slated to be the starting quarterback for the Huskies in the MAC Championship game at Ford Field. It will be Fielder’s first career start after he completed 9 of 17 passes for 117 yards and a touchdowns in relief of injured Kent Graham.

–RB Joel Bouagnon leads the Mid-American Conference in rushing and ranks fourth in the country in rushing touchdowns with 18. The junior has rushed for 1,212 yards.

–CB Shawun Lurry will certainly have his share of chances to add to his interception total against pass-happy Bowling Green. Lurry has eight interceptions this season to set a school modern day single season record.

–OL Aidan Conlon and Andrew Ness can both break the NIU career record for games started against Bowling Green. Both seniors have started 54 straight games dating back to the 2012 season opener against Iowa.

–LB Boomer Mays has been playing at a high level late in the regular season. Mays has recorded 13 tackles in his last two starts.

–S Marlon Moore was named the MAC West Defensive Player of the Week after tallying seven tackles, forcing a fumble and intercepting a pass and adding two pass breakups in a loss to Ohio.