DEKALB, Illinois - There will be a new Mid-American Conference champion in 2017.
That was determined Wednesday after reigning champion Western Michigan was eliminated from contention with a 35-31 loss at Northern Illinois.
The Broncos fell to 6-5 overall and 4-3 league play with only one regular season game remaining. Northern Illinois (7-3, 5-2) stayed in the division chase and will have to defeat Central Michigan (7-4, 5-2) and needs WMU to beat division-leading Toledo to earn the MAC West title.
Northern Illinois redshirt senior running back Jordan Huff rushed for a career-high 185 yards and two scores on 25 carries; redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Childers rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, and was 6-of-11 passing for 64 yards, including the game-winning 26-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Mitch Brinkman with 6:20 to play in the fourth quarter.
"They did a good job of finishing today," WMU head coach Tim Lester said of the Huskies. "We took the lead and they needed to drive down and score and they did. Then we needed to drive and we went three-and-out. When you are playing good football, that's what it comes down to. Those really good championship teams are the ones that when it's crunch time, they can make it happen one way or the other."
Huskies' redshirt sophomore defensive end Sutton Smith, the nation's leader in sacks, finished with 2 1/2 on the night and had a 58-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
WMU senior running back Jarvion Franklin rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries; freshman quarterback Reece Goddard finished 15-for-27 passing for 211 yards and two touchdowns while adding a 7-yard touchdown run; freshman receiver Tyron Arnett had three catches for 93 yards; redshirt sophomore receiver Keishawn Watson had three catches for 53 yards and a score and senior tight end Donnie Ernsberger had five receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Senior linebackers Asantay Brown and Robert Spillane led the Broncos defense with nine tackles apiece and redshirt freshman safety Stefan Claiborne had a forced fumble and a recovery to go with his six stops.
"I know they are frustrated, but we have one more time to play for these seniors," Lester said. "They were great in the locker room but they were down, obviously, so am I. We get one more time to play together for sure - pending bowl if we get picked - so we're going to go down to Toledo, be thankful on Thanksgiving, then we all get to play one more time together."
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