It was all there, right in front of Western Michigan for the taking. And then, on a rain-swept night at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, it was ripped away.
The “it” in the lede was control of its own destiny, with Western Michigan, at 5-2 in MAC play coming in, needing just a win over 4-7 Northern Illinois to secure its fourth appearance in the conference championship game. Instead, the Broncos saw their divisional hopes severely damaged as the Huskies, eight-point home underdogs, stole a 17-14 win Tuesday night.
The Broncos never led in the game, coming to within three points on two different occasions. The last came on a LeVante Bellamy 16-yard touchdown run, his second on the night and nation’s-best 23 on the season, with just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. WMU had two more possessions after that score to tie or win the game, the second of which came after a fumble, recovered by WMU, on a carry by NIU quarterback Marcus Childers that would’ve netted a first down and iced the game as the Broncos had no timeouts and there were just over two minutes left on the clock.
Taking over possession at their own 22-yard line with 2:10 left, Jon Wassink completed a 26-yard pass to DaShon Russell on the first play of the drive… but the ball was promptly fumbled right back to the Huskies, ending the Broncos’ comeback hopes.
With the loss, WMU’s MAC West hopes now lay in the hands of directional rival Central Michigan.
If CMU (5-2) beats Toledo (3-4, 6-5) Friday night, the Chippewas will face MAC East champion Miami (OH) in its first conference championship game appearance since 2009 and its fourth overall. A Chips loss to the Rockets would send the Broncos to the MAC title game for the first time since 2016 and fourth time overall.
For Northern Illinois, the win pushed them to 5-7 on the season and helped avoid the program’s worst record since going 2-10 in 2007.