Falcons escape with 31-28 win over Zips

AKRON — The Bowling Green Falcons opened Mid-American Conference play with a 31-28 road victory over Akron at InfoCision Stadium on Saturday. It is BGSU’s first win in a MAC opener since 2015.

BGSU senior quarterback Matt McDonald threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns as the Falcons totaled 422 yards of offense.

“It’s huge to go on the road and get a win,” McDonald said. “It’s always tough no matter the opponent.”

BGSU sophomore cornerback Jalen Burton returned an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter and Bowling Green maintained the lead throughout the game.

But the Zips hung around, usually one possession down, but never more than two possessions down.

“We need to clean some things up,” McDonald said. “We felt like we could have put the game away earlier, and we should have, but it’s better doing that in the win column than the ‘L’ column, so we’ll clean it up and we’ll be better next week.”

With the victory, BGSU improves to 2-3 overall and 1-0 in the MAC. Akron falls to 1-4 overall and 0-1 in conference play.

“I am super excited to get the win,” BGSU coach Scot Loeffler said. “Last year and definitely two years ago we wouldn’t have finished. We found a way to win.

“It wasn’t pretty. There were some things we could have done better in all three phases, but we found a way to get a win and that is all that matters”

Loeffler has noticed during his stint at BGSU how anything can happen in the MAC.

“In this league, it is a mindset league. Ball State beat Northern (Illinois), it doesn’t matter in this league. You need to bring it every week,” Loeffler said. “I thought we did a good job with the turnover battle. I thought Matt protected the ball well and that was the key to this game.”

BGSU sophomore running back Jamal Johnson ran for 70 yards on 13 carries and wide receiver Odieu Hiliare had four catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.

D.J. Taylor had seven solo tackles and four assists, including an assist on a sack, and Karl Brooks moved into fifth on the all-time sack list with 2½ sacks and 3½ tackles for a loss, passing Brandon Hicks (1998-01) in BGSU history and tying Devon Parks (2003-06).

On defense, BGSU generated 17 points off turnovers in the first half. In the first quarter, Akron quarterback D.J. Irons fumbled, and junior interior linebacker J.B. Brown recovered, giving the ball to the Falcons at the Akron 39.

Sophomore wide receiver Jhaylin Embry started the BGSU drive with another big play, running for a 19-yard gain. The drive stalled at the Akron 11, but senior Mason Lawler’s 29-yard field goal gave the Falcons a 3-0 lead.

Facing third down on their own 18, the Zips looked for a completion over the middle. Burton intercepted the pass and won a footrace down the sideline, extending BGSU’s lead to 10-0 with a pick-six.

After Akron scored to make the score 10-7 and the teams traded punts to start the second quarter, the Falcons marched 80 yards on just seven plays.

Sparked by completions to C.J. Lewis (21 yards) and junior receiver Tyrone Broden (44 yards), Bowling Green reached the three-yard line before McDonald tossed his first touchdown of the game to junior tight end Andrew Bench.

Akron scored to close the gap to 17-14 and the Falcons next drive stalled at midfield, but Charles Rosser recovered a muffed punt at Akron’s 3.

McDonald threw another three-yard touchdown to a tight end, this time hitting Christian Sims in the left flats to give the Falcons a 24-14 lead.

On BG’s first drive of the half, McDonald’s pass was tipped and intercepted by K.J. Martin at the Akron 33. The Zips capitalized, with Irons throwing a 36-yard touchdown to Alex Adams.

Bowling Green’s next scoring drive began on the last play of the third quarter and ended less than three minutes into the fourth quarter.

Covering 88 yards on seven plays, McDonald completed a 59-yard pass to Hiliare, then found Hiliare again for a 19-yard touchdown to extend the lead back to 10 points.

A late Akron drive nearly reached midfield, with Irons scrambling for a first down two times. His pass on fourth down was overthrown, giving the ball back to Bowling Green with 1:33 remaining.

Johnson lunged forward for a yard on 3rd-and-1, giving the Falcons a first down and securing a win in the MAC opener.