BOWLING GREEN - Bowling Green State University found itself up against the wall entering the final quarter of its home opener against Marshall Saturday night.
The Thundering Herd had tied the game at 28 late in the third quarter, and starting quarterback Matt Schilz was knocked out of the game.
And yet the Falcons found a way to score 16 points in the final quarter to earn a 44-28 win at Perry Stadium.
The Falcons returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns and limited the Herd to just 16 net yards in the fourth quarter. And QB Aaron Pankratz came off the bench to lead the offense to 121 yards and a score in the final period as Bowling Green earned its first victory after two road losses.
"We've come close in the fourth quarter against some good football teams, but we didn't make critical plays," BG coach Dave Clawson said. "I thought we did that in this game.
"When Marshall tied the game at 28-28 we needed to show some character, some
backbone. And we did that."
The Falcons claimed their third consecutive home win, while Marshall fell to 0-3.
The Falcons saw an early 28-7 lead erased by a third-quarter flurry by the Herd, which tied the score at 28 with 56 seconds left in the period.
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Late in the third quarter Pankratz, who came in when starting QB Matt Schilz injured his shoulder, threw a 47-yard screen pass to Willie Geter that moved the ball to Marshall's 17. On the third play of the fourth quarter Bryan Wright kicked a 27-yard field goal that gave BG the lead for good.
On the ensuing kickoff the Falcons' Jovan Leacock forced a fumble that Tim Moore recovered on the Marshall 31. Bowling Green failed to score but pinned Marshall deep in its own end, and after a short punt the Falcons took over on the Herd's 33.
On third-and-eight Pankratz found Tyrone Pronty, who danced through the Marshall defense 31 yards for a back-breaking score with 9:21 to play.
"I just tried to get him the ball and let him do his thing with it," Pankratz said. "Hopefully our receivers get some yards after the catch."
Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates then delivered the dagger when he intercepted an Anderson pass on Marshall's next possession and returned it 29 yards for a score that made it 44-28 with 8:37 left.
BG's Keith Morgan sealed the deal with an interception that he returned for a touchdown; a penalty called it back, but the Falcons got the ball on Marshall's 34 and the Herd never challenged again.
"At times we were playing six or seven freshmen on defense," Clawson said. "They're good players, and the more they play and gain experience the better they'll become."
BG was on fire to start the game, taking the opening kickoff and driving 64 yards in seven plays. The biggest play was a 33-yard pass from Matt Schilz to Calvin Wiley that also included a roughing the passer penalty on Marshall.
Schilz found Kamar Jorden in the near left corner of the end zone with a five-yard scoring strike.
Late in the first quarter the Falcons made the first of their many big plays on defense as Angelo Magnone's pressure forced Marshall quarterback Brian Anderson to throw a pass that Dwayne Woods intercepted on the BG 22 and returned 78 yards for a score.
A second BG interception - this by Leacock, who returned the ball to the Marshall 16 - set up another Falcon touchdown. This time Schilz scored on a QB sneak from a yard out to make it 21-0.
Then the defense made its first mistake, allowing the Thundering Herds' Andre Booker to break through on a sweep right and ramble 68 yards for a TD.
Late in the first half the Falcons mounted a seven-play, 47-yard yard drive that saw Schilz complete five straight passes to move BG down the field and set up a two-yard TD run by Jordan Hopgood.
But another slip by special teams and the defense allowed Marshall to score just before the half. The kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Herd the ball on their 40, and they covered 60 yards to get into the end zone.
Anderson completed 7 of 9 passes for 54 yards, completing a six-yard TD toss to Antavio Wilson with 0.9 seconds left in the half.
It was all Marshall in the third quarter as it scored twice to tie the game. A 10-play, 70-yard drive midway through the period ended with a one-yard TD run by A.J. Graham with 5:32 left.
Then in the waning moments of the quarter, the Herd sacked Schilz and forced a fumble that Jeremiah Taylor recovered on the BG 1. Martin Ward scored on the next play to tie the game with 56 seconds left.
"I've been through this before as a head coach: it's important, when you're young, to get one of those wins early so you can build on it," Clawson said. "Generally younger teams aren't as resilient as older teams. That's why I'm really proud of this team; we're young, but we're a resilient team."
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Bowling Green State University found itself up against the wall entering the final quarter of its home opener against Marshall Saturday night. The Thundering Herd had tied the game at 28 late in the third quarter, and starting quarterback Matt Schilz was knocked out of the game. And yet the Falcons found a way to score 16 points in the final quarter to earn a 44-28 win at Perry Stadium.