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What is ‘MACtion?’ Let’s define it by its 10 greatest games ever

MACtion: Mid-week Mid-American Conference football in November. Expect fun and nothing else.

Toledo v BYU Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

It might not feel like we make as much as we used to in this country, but we still have some of the best exports a country can provide. Aircraft, for instance. Medical equipment. Our vehicles are getting better again. And hey, nobody does breakfast like us.

But America’s greatest fun export comes out only a few weeks each year. On weeknights in November, in the country’s Rust Belt, we give the world MACtion.

The world has not shown us enough gratitude for this, to be honest.

Whether we are truly grateful enough or worthy, MACtion returns to us again.

The most parity-heavy conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision will once again get rolling with a heavy slate of weeknight conference games. (All times p.m. ET.)

  • Tuesday, Nov. 1: No. 17 Western Michigan at Ball State (8, ESPN2), Bowling Green at Northern Illinois (8, ESPNU)
  • Wednesday, Nov. 2: Toledo at Akron (7:30, ESPN2)
  • Thursday, Nov. 3: Buffalo at Ohio (6, CBSSN)
  • Friday, Nov. 4: Central Michigan at Miami (Ohio) (6, CBSSN)
  • Tuesday, Nov. 8: Western Michigan at Kent State, Eastern Michigan at Ball State
  • Wednesday, Nov. 9: Toledo at Northern Illinois, Bowling Green at Akron
  • Tuesday, Nov. 15: Ohio at Central Michigan, Kent State at Bowling Green
  • Wednesday, Nov. 16: Ball State at Toledo, Northern Illinois at Eastern Michigan
  • Tuesday, Nov. 22: Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan, Akron at Ohio, Ball State at Miami (Ohio)
  • Friday, Nov. 25: Toledo at Western Michigan, Buffalo at Bowling Green, Northern Illinois at Kent State

So what makes MACtion, MACtion?

Offense, for starters. The MAC has frequently been a laboratory for up-and-coming offensive coaches, and when you combine that with defenses that are dealing with odd work schedules, you frequently get large point totals.

(We’ll see if that’s the case this year: Only two MAC teams — Western Michigan and Toledo — rank among the top 50 scoring offenses.)

And where’d that “MACtion” nickname come from?

Probably, back around 2010. The conference later adopted it as an official hashtag and slogan.

Why do they play on Tuesdays and Wednesdays?

Money and exposure.

What else should I know about the MAC?

It’s a bunch of smaller schools in the Midwest. Hustle Belt has a helpful “MACtionary.”

Beyond that, MACtion can provide us with a necessary distraction.

With Tuesday night’s inaugural unveiling of the College Football Playoff rankings, we have reached the point of the season in which the sport takes itself about 100 times too seriously.

Combined with the most discouraging, endless presidential campaigns of all time, this country needs MACtion more than ever.

And to suitably prepare for what we could be in store for, let’s look at some of the best MACtion moments.

Here are the top 10 MACtion games of the last decade.

To qualify, the game must have taken place on a weekday in November, and it must have been an intra-conference game.

10. Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006: Miami 9, BGSU 7

Points and yards are common MACtion features, but they aren’t requirements. Sometimes we can derive entertainment from watching guys slide around in the mud.

This game was supposed to be memorable for the names involved. Three years earlier, Ben Roethlisberger and the Redhawks took down an otherwise 11-1 BGSU team twice. Big success was pretty close in the rear-view for both schools. But they were in the middle of disappointing seasons in 2006. They would combine to go just 6-18.

Still, they had a role in one of Mother Nature’s sloppiest paintings ever.

9. Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009: Temple 34, Miami 32

Temple reintroduced itself. After 18 straight losing seasons and 30 without a bowl bid, Al Golden’s Owls went 9-4 and tied for the MAC East crown.

But before they could share the East title, they had to survive a mad comeback. They bolted to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter and took a 31-13 lead on a 14-yard Bernard Pierce score late in the third quarter. But Miami’s Zac Dysert threw fourth-quarter touchdowns to Steve Marck and Armand Robinson to cut the lead to 31-26, and Thomas Merriweather’s two-yard score gave the Redhawks a stunning 32-31 lead with 2:36 left.

That was just enough time for Temple to rebound. Chester Stewart and Joe Jones connected for a 31-yard score, Pierce rushed four times for 31 yards, and Brandon McManus poked an 18-yard field goal between the uprights for a two-point win.

8. Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011: NIU 41, Ball State 38

2011 was MACtion’s greatest vintage. This was, at best, the third-best MACtion game of the season, but it was still a classic.

NIU’s Chandler Harnish, a MACtion hall of famer, threw for 338 yards and rushed for 181, and the Huskies needed every one of those yards to survive Pete Lembo’s Cardinals.

The runs were frequent. Ball State went up 14-0 in the first quarter, and NIU tied it at 14-14 midway through the second. Ball State scored 10 more points before halftime, then extended the run to 17-0 with an 87-yard touchdown drive early in the third quarter. NIU responded with a 21-0 run to go up 35-31.

Ball State’s Dwayne Donigan scored to give BSU a 38-35 lead with 11 minutes left, but two Mathew Sims field goals — a 23-yarder with 2:46 left and a 34-yarder with 0:08 left — gave the Huskies a wild win.

7. Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015: NIU 32, No. 24 Toledo 27

After a few shaky seasons, MACtion was good again in 2015. It gave NIU a template for a last stand. The Huskies have won six consecutive MAC West titles, and the sixth was by far the least likely.

Matt Campbell’s final Toledo team raced to a 17-7 lead 12 minutes into the game, and NIU lost quarterback Drew Hare to a season-ending injury midway through the second quarter. No matter! Four Christian Hagan field goals kept NIU close, and backup Ryan Graham threw a touchdown pass to Kenny Golladay to bring the Huskies to within 27-25 with 9:27 left. Toledo’s offense, so dominant early on, fell into a funk and managed only 10 points in the final 48 minutes, and Joel Bouagnon’s two-yard run with 1:59 left gave NIU a surprising victory.

(NIU is currently 2-2 in conference play, two games behind WMU and 67 spots behind the Broncos in the S&P+ ratings. It is highly unlikely the Huskies extend their division title streak to seven years. Of course, it was highly unlikely they would reach six, too. MACtion tends to be NIU’s time to shine.)

6. Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008: CMU 33, NIU 30

This seemed pretty run of the mill. CMU went to four bowls and three MAC title games between 2006-09, and it seemed they would cruise to a win in DeKalb. Storied quarterback Dan LeFevour threw for 189 yards and rushed for 121, and CMU eased to a 30-6 lead midway through the third.

No one cruises in DeKalb. At least not when MACtion is involved. A Harnish score made it 30-14 heading into the fourth quarter, and two Chad Spann touchdowns made it 30-27. Mike Salerno nailed a 25-yard field goal to send the game to overtime and finish regulation on a 24-0 run

NIU had all the momentum heading into overtime, but momentum is overrated. Josh Gordy picked off Harnish on the second play of OT, Andrew Aguila booted a 40-yard field goal, and CMU survived.

5. Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008: Buffalo 43, Akron 40

4. Friday, Nov. 21, 2008: Buffalo 40, BGSU 34

Blame MACtion for the collapse of the Kansas football program*. The Jayhawks hired Turner Gill to replace Mark Mangino thanks to the miraculous MAC title run Gill’s Bulls made in 2008. They began the season 2-5 but won five straight, clinched the MAC East, then destroyed unbeaten Ball Sate in the conference championship.

They wouldn’t have played Ball State at all if not for a double dose of MACtion craziness. On Nov. 13, the Bulls led Akron 17-7 in the second quarter and 24-17 late, but the Zips’ Dennis Kennedy plunged in from a yard out to tie the game at 24-24 with 23 seconds left. The teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, field goals in the second, and touchdowns again in the third. But in the fourth extra period, Richie Smith recovered a Chris Jacquemain fumble, and A.J. Principe nailed a 40-yard field goal for the win.

Eight days later, it got even crazier. Bowling Green led UB at home, 27-7, early in the fourth quarter, but James Starks scored on a 12-yard run, and Drew Willy fired touchdown passes to Brett Hamlin and Naaman Roosevelt, the latter with just 37 seconds remaining. The teams needed just five plays to trade touchdowns in the first overtime, but on fourth-and-goal from the 2, BGSU’s Tyler Sheehan fired incomplete to Corey Partridge. On the first play of Buffalo’s next possession, Starks raced 25 yards for the score.

* Actually, blame Mangino and Kansas.

3. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007: CMU 34, WMU 31

65 points isn’t all that impressive for a MACtion game, but when 48 come in the fourth quarter, you’ve got my attention. This was a bit of a dud, with CMU leading on 10-7 after 45 minutes, but then things got weird.

  • WMU’s Mike Jones led off the fourth quarter with a 33-yard field goal. 10-10.
  • CMU went 64 yards in nine plays, and LeFevour scored from five yards out. 17-10 CMU, 11:57 left.
  • Tim Hiller and Branden Ledbetter connected for 65 yards to set up a three-yard Hiller-to-Ledbetter touchdown. 17-17, 10:39 left.
  • After the teams trade punts, LeFevour hits Bryan Anderson for 27 yards and Antonio Brown for a 14-yard score. 24-17 CMU, 6:03 left.
  • Calvin Hissong picks off a Hiller pass; three plays later, Aguila’s 21-yard field goal puts CMU up 10 with 3:53 left. Insurmountable!
  • After a nice kick return, WMU goes 57 yards in eight plays, and Hiller and Herb Martin for a three-yard score. 27-24, 2:07 left.
  • WMU spends its last timeouts, but with 1:51 left, Dustin Duclo strips LeFevour of the ball. The Broncos recover, Brandon West catches a 10-yard pass, and West rushes for a 15-yard score. 31-24, 1:34 left. WMU’s going to win!
  • A third-down pass interference penalty sets CMU up at the WMU 40, then a 39-yarder from LeFevour to Anderson sets CMU for the easy score. WMU stuffs LeFevour twice, but on third-and-goal with 12 seconds left, he plunges in for the win.

2. Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011: Toledo 66, WMU 63

1. Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011: NIU 63, Toledo 60

Here’s where MACtion truly became MACtion.

On Nov. 8, 2011, WMU and Toledo combined to throw 100 times for 945 yards and 10 touchdowns and rush 83 times for 506 yards and six scores. WMU’s Alex Carder was 38 for 59 for 548 yards and seven scores, WMU’s Jordan White caught 16 passes for 238 yards, and Toledo’s Adonis Thomas rushed 30 times for 216 yards. It was 21-14 Toledo after one quarter, 28-28 at halftime, and 49-42 after three, and things still found another gear late.

WMU tied the game early in the fourth quarter, then Toledo scored twice to go up 63-49. WMU got within seven with 3:20 left, Toledo extended the lead back to 10, and WMU scored once more to get within three. Toledo recovered an onside kick and just barely ran out the clock.

This was a ridiculous game in and of itself, but it was overshadowed by its own redundancy.

Seven days earlier, NIU and Toledo had played almost the same game, only with the added bonus of two early kick-return touchdowns.

Tommylee Lewis’ two return scores meant that NIU’s first offense snap came with the game tied at 14-14 midway through the first quarter. Harnish and Nathan Palmer connected for 71 yards to put NIU up 28-14, then Toledo used a 17-0 run to go up early in the third quarter.

Then it was back and forth. Harnish to Da’Ron Brown for a four-point NIU lead. Austin Danton to Eric Page for a 38-35 Toledo lead. Two more Harnish TD passes made 49-41, and two Toledo scores in 16 seconds made it 53-49 Rockets. NIU went up 56-53, then Toledo went up 60-56 with 4:16 left. But instead of continuing to trade scores, NIU took the air out of the ball. The Huskies drove 66 yards in nine plays and, more importantly, nearly four minutes. Harnish and Perez Ashford gave NIU a 63-60 lead with 19 seconds left, and while Dantin and Kenny Stafford connected to get Toledo to midfield in the closing seconds, a lateral fest could only get Toledo to the NIU 25 as the clock expired.

If November gives us at least one game this crazy, we’ll take it. Two or three would be stupendous.