There were a couple of surprise results in the first week of MAC play, with Cincinnati taking down Northern Illinois and Bowling Green struggling to get past Western Michigan.
Cincinnati finished dead last in the conference last year with an 0-8 record, and Northern Illinois finished second at 7-1. Saturday, the Bearcats recorded their first-ever MAC win, and their first-ever DI conference win, beating the Huskies 21-14 – a big improvement over a 50-5 loss in 2012. That puts Cincinnati at 3-0 on the young season after non-conference wins over Vanderbilt and Xavier.
Cincinnati used the wind to kick for field position in the first half and pinned NIU deep in its territory. Strong pack play by the Bearcat forwards forced the Huskies to concede a penalty, which Jimmy Forde converted into a 3-0 lead.
Cincinnati kept the pressure on with their forwards, driving inside the attacking 22 with multiple-phase pick and goes. Captain Adam Herron scored the first try of the match by driving a pair of NIU players into the try zone, making the score 8-0.
NIU was able to push into Bearcat territory, but staunch defense by Cincinnati centers Derek Jackson and Mike Peelman shut down the Huskies’ drive. Near the end of the half, UC was again on the offensive with multiple try-scoring opportunities. Wing Tim Shutrump was finally able to take a skip pass from Forde and speed around the defensive edge to center another try, which Forde converted. The flyhalf followed that up with another penalty before the half, making it 18-0 at intermission.
The second half saw a tighter contest, and with some brutal hits and a face pace, both teams had to go to the bench. As the match wore on, NIU was able to gain significant yardage from their speedy wing and scored two converted tries to pull the score to 18-14. Cincinnati was not able to muster much of an offensive attack, but was able to earn another penalty with a few minutes left. Forde slotted his third such kick to round out the scoring.
In the other MAC game on the weekend, defending champs and unbeaten-in-the-MAC Bowling Green slipped past Western Michigan 35-29. The Falcons beat the Broncos by 32 last fall.
Bowling has undergone a transformation since last season, losing some big-time playmakers, including Mike Ziegler, Dominic Mauer, Sam Polzin and many more, so the Falcons are in somewhat of a rebuilding phase.
Still, most of their scores came from returning contributors. Prop Dan Szente converted all five of Bowling Green’s tries on the day, which made all the difference. Western Michigan also scored five tries, but converted just two.
The Falcons’ tries came from veteran fullback Matt Marquette off a long-range run, and interception by flanker Frank Viancourt, a short-yardage run from center Trent Szente and push-over score from No. 8 Bryan Keane. Bowling Green also got a try from one of their new contributors – flyhalf Teddy Terezis.
Terezis is a transfer from Penn, where he stood out on the Quakers’ wing. He’s slotted in directly at flyhalf for Bowling Green, filling the void left by Ziegler.
In addition to Bowling Green coming back to the pack a bit, Western Michigan is getting better, says BG’s Roger Mazzarella, who gives a lot of credit to Western Michigan coach Mark Allen.
“He is a good coach. Western Michigan, going back about 20 years ago, the MAC had three or four teams in the top 10 in the Midwest, and Western Michigan was one of them, and he’s bringing them back,” said Mazzarella. “He’s got some sponsors, he’s got a little bit of money, he’s organized, he’s got a game plan, and he’s a good coach.”
Still, to the programs hoping to take a bite out of the Falcons, the close loss signals blood in the water. Mazzarella knows programs are circling.
“Miami wants us just because we’re big rivals. Northern Illinois, they may have been upset, but I’m sure with one loss they probably think that they could do it. Cincinnati looked good last year,” he said. “Two losses will put you out [of the conference race], but I think everybody is going to have at least one loss.”
There was supposed to be a third MAC game last weekend, Ball State vs. Central Michigan, but it has been rescheduled.