The Huskies have been here before— a lot. But more specifically, in 2018, when they beat Buffalo as an underdog.
Since the Huskies are in the MAC Championship game this year, let’s go back to the last time they were in the game.
The year was 2018, and Northern Illinois had clinched their eighth MAC Championship Game appearance as winners of the MAC West division, holding a 3-4 record in their previous appearances.
At 7-5 (6-2 MAC), the Huskies would find themselves as three-point underdogs coming into game, as they faced off against the highly-favored Buffalo Bulls, who finished the season 10-2 (7-1 MAC).
The Bulls would strike first with a 94-yard drive was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Kevin Marks. This would happen with 6:38 left in the quarter.
Buffalo would score the next touchdown after another 94-yard drive that was capped off by a 13-yard pass from Tyree Jackson to Anthony Johnson. The ensuing extra point was pushed no good to make the game 13-0. Northern Illinois would strike next, with a 75-yard drive capped by Marcus Childers finding Spencer Tears in the endzone for a highlight reel catch to make the make the score 13-7.
Not to be deterred, Buffalo would establish a 12-point lead after a 75-yard drive ending on a 26-yard touchdown reception by Anthony Johnson from Tyree Jackson. The two-point conversion to give the Bulls a 14-point lead would fail, setting up an interesting 12-point gap.
Northern Illinois would hit paydirt after an Andrew Gantz 39-yard field goal brought them within nine of the Buffalo Bulls. The Bulls would get their 12-point lead back on a last-second field goal of their own to close the half at 22-10 in favor of Buffalo.
The Buffalo Bulls came out strong to start the third quarter, extending their lead to 19 points a little over 3 minutes into the resumption of play. The opening drive was capped off by a nine-yard touchdown run by future NFL’er Jaret Patterson, pushing the margin to 29-10 Buffalo. It was starting to look like the wheels were coming off the Huskies’ bus.
Northern Illinois would get right to work on closing the gap to respectability, as the NIU defense put up a stanch effort collecting back-to-back sacks to force a Bulls punt from their own endzone.
NIU made the Bulls pay for their offensive inability and a botched punt attempt, as they possessed the ball at the Buffalo 34-yard line, and scored quickly on a 28-yard touchdown from Marcus Childers to DJ Brown to bring the score within 12 points.
The ensuing Buffalo Bills drive didn’t last long as the Northern Illinois defense held them to a three-and-out. The Huskies once again made them pay on the offensive end, with Childers finding Spencer Tears for their second connection of the day on a 32-yard pass to Spencer Tears, bringing the score to 29-24 in favor of Buffalo.
After yet another stellar defensive series to force a Buffalo punt, NIU possessed the ball knowing a touchdown would secure them a late game lead.
It would only take the Huskies just over two minutes to do the deed againt a gassed Buffalo defense, as Northern Illinois would insert the final dagger with a 1:09 left in the game on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Childers to DJ Brown for their second scoring connection of the night.
Buffalo would get one last possession to try and set up a field goal to take the victory, but Buffalo’s attempted comeback drive would only get them to the NIU 41-yard line, as Tyree Jackson’s third pass in a row to KJ Osborn flew incomplete with 21 seconds remaining, granting the Huskies the MAC title by a final score of 30 to 29.
Northern Illinois quarterback Marcus Childers would be named the offensive MVP of the game, while Northern Illinois linebacker Sutton Smith would be named the defensive MVP of the game. Northern Illinois would go on to the Boca Raton Bowl to play Conference USA foe UAB, eventually losing by a final score of 37 to 13.
Coach Rod Carey would go on to Temple at the end of the season, taking the place of Manny Diaz, who departed back to Miami [FL] after previously signing on to become head coach of Temple some weeks prior.