ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Bowling Green’s football team is headed to the Mid-American Conference championship game for the first time in a decade.
|Bowling Green’s Jairus Campbell (from left), Paul Swan, Ryland Ward, Will Watson, Dave Clawson and Tyler Beck celebrate after the Falcons defeated Buffalo to win the Mid-American Conference East Division championship. (Provided by Nick LoVerde)
Sparked by a solid performance from their defense and big plays for the offense, the Falcons rallied for a 24-7 win over Buffalo Friday afternoon in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“This is a great feeling. I’m really proud of our football team,” BG head coach Dave Clawson said. “A lot of people have worked hard for a number of years.’’
It’s BG’s first MAC outright division title since the Falcons won the West in 2003, before losing in the championship game to Miami.
With the victory over Buffalo, the Falcons secured the MAC East title and a spot in the conference championship game against Northern Illinois.
The MAC title game is next Friday at 8 p.m. in Detroit’s Ford Field.
The Falcons trailed 7-3 at the half, but turned things around in the final 30 minutes on both sides of the ball.
“We just had to get out there in the second half, and make some plays,” Clawson said. “The defense was rock-solid all day, and the key was to make some big catches against them. We were going to throw the ball deep and some of those balls had to be caught … That was a game that we are going to have to make some plays over the top.”
Even trailing at the half and not scoring a touchdown, there was no panic in BG’s locker room. The Falcons stayed the course and the preparation paid off with a victory.
“We were confident,” said fifth-year senior defensive lineman Ted Ouellet. “There was no panic or anything like that.”
“We were really shooting ourselves in the foot, penalties, dropped passes, I’m missing throws. We’re missing blocks. We really didn’t execute to the full potential in the first half,” BG quarterback Matt Johnson said. ”The fact we were only down 7-3 was kind of uplifting, because we knew in the second half if we came out and played the way we could, we could put some points on the board.”
Johnson threw an interception on BG’s first offensive possession of the second half, but even that didn’t faze the Falcons. Earlier on the drive, Johnson connected with Shaun Joplin for a 31-yard reception that helped jump-start the offense.
After the interception, the defense held Buffalo, and the Falcons’ offense responded with a quick drive, capped by Johnson’s 23-yard TD pass to Joplin, who got some part of his foot down in the end zone for the score. Johnson also connected with Alex Bayer for a 48-yard gain on the drive.
After another defensive stop by the Falcons, Buffalo’s punt pinned the Falcons at their 7-yard line. After a false start penalty, BG faced a first-and-13, and it was time for Johnson to call his own number.
With Buffalo’s defensive end and linebacker on the right side, crashing in an effort to stop Travis Greene, who was going to the left, Johnson kept the ball and started around the right side. Helped by a good block from Heath Jackson, Johnson picked up 56 yards. A fourth down pass to Tyler Beck kept the drive alive, and Greene’s 14-yard run and the PAT put BG ahead 17-7.
“That was a huge turning point in the game,” Clawson said about Johnson’s run. “It was just really a heads-up play by him. I was surprised, because on the play call we don’t usually read that.”
“That really did give us some momentum,” Johnson said. “That was a big spark for us.”
In the fourth quarter, Johnson found Joplin for a 62-yard gain and then Johnson scored on a 7-yard run 8:18 to play.
After Johnson’s TD, the clock was BG’s best friend in helping secure the win. The Falcons ran 37 plays for 338 yards in the second half. BG finished with 490 total yards.
‘’Buffalo was clearly going to pressure us,” Clawson said. “They were going to play press man, and dare us to throw the ball deep … If we don’t make those plays on the deep balls, I think it’s a different game.”
Clawson said the defensive game plan was to make the Bulls throw the ball. The Falcons limited UB running back Branden Oliver to 46 yards on 18 carries.
BG also sacked UB quarterback Joe Licata five times and had one interception. In the second half, UB ran 38 plays for 144 yards, with 84 of those yards coming on the Bulls’ last two possessions.
“In the second half, once they got into the passing game, we knew we could take advantage of that,” said Ouellet, who finished with five tackles, including three tackles for loss and two sacks. “We’ve been picking up (the pass rush) all year, we’ve been getting better and better as we go along.”
BGSU 24, BUFFALO 7
BGSU 3 0 14 7 — 24
Buffalo 0 7 0 0 — 7
BG—FG Tate 40, 4:52. Drive: 6 plays, 41 yard,s 2:17.
Buff—Oliver 2 run (Clarke kick), 7:13. Drive 9 plays, 66 yards, 3:19. Drive: 9 plays, 66 yards, 3:19.
BG—Joplin 23 pass from Johnson (Tate kick), 8:07. Drive: 6 plays, 71 yards, 2:00.
BG—Tra.Greene 14 run (Tate kick), 2:05. Drive: 7 plays, 93 yards, 4:23.
BG—Johnson 7 run (Tate kick), 8:18. Drive: 7 plays, 81 yards, 3:04.
First downs 16 15
Rushing 8 2
Passing 8 12
Penalty 0 1
Rushes-yards 48-260 24-15
Passing 230 221
Comp-Att-Int 11-26-1 21-45-1
Avg. gain per play 6.6 3.4
Sacks/yards lost 5-30 1-4
Punts-Avg. 7-36.9 9-41.7
Punt returns 2-0 1-0
Kickoff returns 2-55 5-121
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards 6-43 3-25
Time of Possession 34:31 25:29
RUSHING—Bowling Green, Tra.Greene 30-129, Johnson 10-72, Houston 6-47, Hopgood 2-12. Buffalo, Oliver 18-46, Team 1-(minus 1), Licata 5-(minus 30).
PASSING—Bowling Green, Johnson 11-26-1-230. Buffalo, Licata 21-45-1-221.
RECEIVING—Bowling Green, Joplin 6-149, Bayer 1-48, Beck 1-13, H.Jackson 1-11, Burbrink 1-8, Tra.Greene 1-1. Buffalo, Neutz 6-66, Lee 5-50, Oliver 4-34, Ross 3-30, Campbell 1-30, Dennison 1-6, Schreck 1-5.