YPSILANTI, Mich. - It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. But sometimes a team has to grind out a victory when things aren't easy or pretty.
And the Bowling Green State University football team did exactly that yesterday, using a punishing ground game to grind up Eastern Michigan 33-20 at Rynearson Stadium.
“I don't know if we won ugly, but we didn't put them away like we thought we should,” said BG coach Gregg Brandon, whose team improved to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Mid-American Conference. “But I'm happy as a pig in slop that we won.”
Eastern Michigan fell to 1-7 overall and 0-4 in the league.
The Falcons rolled up 305 rushing yards and scored four times on the ground, with quarterback Josh Harris accounting for three of the TDs. P.J. Pope finished with 122 yards on 22 carries, while Harris was close to the century mark with 96 yards on 12 rushes.
“[Our rushing game] was something we saw they would have problems with,” Harris said.
The Falcons took the opening kickoff and raced down the field for a touchdown, gobbling up 80 yards on just seven plays. Pope, who ran the ball 28 yards down to Eastern's 1-yard line, then punched the ball into the end zone on the next play.
But the Eagles used a fake punt to mount a drive of their own. EMU punter David Rysko threw a 21-yard pass to Adam Jacobs to keep the drive alive, and two plays later quarterback Chinedu Okoro found tight end Kevin Zureki with a 40-yard pass down the middle for the touchdown.
Bowling Green took the lead for good late in the opening quarter with a six-play drive entirely on the ground, with back-up tailback B.J. Lane carrying the ball 55 yards and Harris covering the final 20 yards on a touchdown gallop.
On their next possession the Falcons again rolled down the field, moving down to the Eagles' 7-yard line before stalling. Shaun Suisham capped the drive with a 24-yard field goal.
But Eastern Michigan quickly cut into BG's 10-point advantage by driving 80 yards on just eight plays, aided in part by a pair of Falcon penalties. Anthony Sherrell finished the drive with a three-yard TD run.
That drive highlighted the problems the Falcons had stopping Eastern Michigan's rushing game as Sherrell ran for a game-high 187 yards on 33 carries. That helped the Eagles score 20 points, their highest total in a MAC game this season.
The inability to stop the run becomes a worry for BG next week, when it hosts Northern Illinois and Heisman Trophy candidate Michael Turner at Perry Stadium.
“We knew [Sherrell] was their go-to guy, but he hurt us with the draw play,” said BG linebacker Ted Piepkow, who finished with 11 tackles. “I don't think the defense was ready to play from the get-go. A win is a win, but we were unsatisfied with our defensive performance.”
The Falcons bounced back with a touchdown of their own, mixing the running of Lane with an opportune passing attack. Bowling Green traveled 80 yards on nine plays, with Harris scoring on a four-yard run.
On its next possession BG used 13 plays to drive 74 yards before stalling at the Eagles' 6-yard line. Suisham kicked a 23-yard field goal to make the score 26-14 at the half.
In the second half Eastern Michigan never came within a touchdown of the Falcons.
Near the end of the third period the Eagles drove 47 yards on 11 plays before Andrew Wellock kicked a 40-yard field goal.
But the Falcons took the following kickoff and covered 65 yards on eight plays, with Harris keeping the ball for the final five yards just 2:01 in the final period.
After that Eastern Michigan managed just one field goal as Wellock booted a 29-yarder.
But that still didn't satisfy Brandon or the Falcons.
“I don't have a good feeling about how we played - we were flat,” Brandon said. “After a tough road win at Western Michigan, we saw a team on film we thought we could dominate.
“Everyone expected us to blow them out, so our kids are disappointed. We know they didn't play well.”