There were few dry eyes in the Bowling Green State University football locker room following a 49-41 loss to Toledo at the Glass Bowl on Tuesday.
BG's loss to its archrival obviously hurt, and seeing a 20-point halftime advantage erased by the Rockets' 28-point third-quarter explosion was agonizing, too. Knowing that the Falcons possibly had allowed a bowl bid to slip through their fingers had to make the ache even more acute.
But only those inside the Bowling Green football program knew the real reason for the pain.
"We love each other on this team," senior safety Keon Newson said. "There's so much love on this team, there are guys crying. I don't know how normal that is on other teams, but these are guys who want to stay around one another."
Had BG won Tuesday, indications were that the team would have received an immediate bowl bid. Now the 8-3 Falcons are forced to wait and see if a bowl opportunity comes their way.
"We'll do anything for a bowl game," Newson said. "I want to go out there and see Jovon Burkes and Scott Mruczkowski and [Andy] Grubb, guys like that whose hearts are full of gold. I want to be on the field with those guys again."
Newson wasn't alone in that feeling. Quarterback Omar Jacobs threw for a career-high 415 yards in the loss, completing 36 of 60 pass attempts for two more career bests. The 60 pass attempts broke the school record set by Brian McClure in the 1983 Toledo game.
But after the game, the sophomore's reddened eyes revealed there would be no celebrating his passing effort against the Rockets.
"I've just got to keep my head up right now, coming off one of my worst performances of the year," Jacobs said. "It's just hard right now. It's hard for these seniors to lose to Toledo in their last game. It's hard right now knowing we were up 27-7 at halftime and we lost the game."
The hardest part for the Falcons is knowing that there are only three bowl berths promised to MAC schools, with three teams - Toledo, Miami and Northern Illinois - probably ahead of BG in the pecking order.
Mathematically, Bowling Green still has a chance for a bowl bid. There are 56 spots available, and the Falcons are one of 54 Division I-A teams bowl-eligible. Currently no more than 61 teams still have a chance to become bowl-eligible.
"If we go out winners [in a bowl], that would soften the blow a little bit," Jacobs said. "Right now it's really bitter. Ending the season on a losing note, it's not a good feeling.
"If we get a bowl bid, we're going to come out firing."
Newson said he and the program's 14 other seniors aren't ready to give up the bond they have established.
"If our season ended today, guys would still be hanging around each other because they can't let go of that feeling. They can't let go of those relationships they've built while they've been here."
Now all that is left for the Falcons is to politic for that bowl bid - and to hope.
BIG NUMBERS: Junior tailback P.J. Pope continued his strong late-season run, finishing with a team-leading 98 rushing yards on 20 carries and adding 104 receiving yards on 10 catches against UT.
The 104-yard receiving day was the first 100-yard pass-catching game of his career. This season Pope has caught 49 passes for 477 yards and five touchdowns, tops among MAC tailbacks.
On the ground Pope has rushed for 947 yards on 150 carries, the fourth-most yards for a league back this year. With a touchdown Tuesday, Pope has 13 running scores, second only to Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe. In his last four games Pope has rushed for 549 yards on 76 carries with seven scores. He has run for at least one touchdown in each of his last eight games.
CROWDED HOUSE: Tuesday night's crowd of 31,981 at the Glass Bowl was that stadium's seventh-largest crowd, and the largest ever to watch UT and BG play there. It also was the second-largest crowd in series history, topped only by the 33,527 who jammed into Perry Stadium to see the two teams battle on Oct. 8, 1983.
THREE-DOT DATA: Shaun Suisham, who broke the NCAA Division I-A record for career extra-point attempts Tuesday, also extended his MAC record for consecutive PATs to 62. ... BG's two interceptions give the Falcons 13 this season, including eight in the last three games. ... Senior receiver Cole Magner caught nine passes for 113 yards and a touchdown Tuesday. The 113-yard game marked his second time above the 100-yard receiving mark this season and the sixth of his career.
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