GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Bowling Green State University football team could have been satisfied with its effort in a 27-14 loss Saturday to No. 23 Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The Falcons might have been pleased to stand toe-to-toe with the Gators at "The Swamp," giving the locals reason to worry until the game's final minutes.
But they weren't.
"We just did some things in the fourth quarter you can't do to win a football game," BG coach Dave Clawson said. "The two turnovers, the missed field goals, not handling the punt.
"We came into the fourth quarter with a chance to win the football game, and we didn't execute very well. Congratulations to Florida, because I think they have a great football team. But we felt we let one get away."
The Falcons missed a pair of field goals and had several fourth-quarter breakdowns that thwarted their attempt to spring the upset in a game where they stayed close throughout.
The Falcons landed the first blow early in the contest by grinding out a 12-play, 89-yard drive behind Matt Schilz, who completed 7 of 9 passes for 64 yards. John Pettigrew capped the drive with a big second effort to score from a yard out.
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BG carried that 7-0 lead into the second quarter, but the Gators seemed to flick the switch on their offense in that period. After gaining just 42 yards on the ground in the first quarter, Florida's Mike Gillislee ran for 17 yards on the second play of the period to jump-start a drive that saw them cover 85 yards on 13 plays, with all but 10 of those yards coming on the ground.
Gillislee scored on a 15-yard run with 9 minutes, 29 seconds left in the quarter.
Later in the second period BG punter Brian Schmiedebusch shanked a punt 16 yards to give the Gators the ball on the Falcons' 38, and Gillislee sliced through the BG defense for a TD on the next play.
The Falcons allowed 125 yards rushing on 15 attempts that quarter but limited Florida to just 95 yards on 27 runs in the other three quarters.
"As a veteran group, we still tend to get out of focus a little bit," said senior linebacker Dwayne Woods, who finished with four tackles. "If we can continue to get locked in and stay focused, I think our run defense will improve."
Just before the half, a short punt and a personal foul on the Gators gave BG the ball on its own 46 with 1:18 left. The Falcons converted a fourth-down play and eventually drove to Florida's 13 before Stephen Stein's 31-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the right upright.
Undaunted, Bowling Green drove for a game-tying TD on its first drive of the second half. Schmiedebusch converted a fake punt run, and a personal foul helped key the drive, which Anthon Samuel finished with a 12-yard touchdown run.
"I thought we started to run the ball better in the third quarter," said Schilz, who completed 24 of 49 passes for 204 yards. "And we had been waiting for guys to step up all camp, and guys like Ryan Burbrink and Chris Gallon really stepped up."
Burbrink finished with a game-high eight catches for 45 yards, while Gallon caught six balls for a game-high 69 yards.
Florida took advantage of another short punt by Schmiedebusch to get a 34-yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis that broke the tie with 6:03 left, but BG answered with an 11-play, 57-yard drive that was wasted when Stein missed a 29-yard field goal attempt.
Still, the Falcons trailed just 17-14 before their bubble burst in the final period.
"When you play a game like this, the key is to stay in the game," Clawson said. "We entered the fourth quarter with a chance to win."
On BG's first play of the period Schilz threw a pass that bounced off the hands of Shaun Joplin to Florida's Marcus Roberson, who returned it 31 yards to the Gators' 47.
"I thought it was a well-thrown ball that hit the receiver in the hands, and I thought it was [a ball] we needed to make a play on," Clawson said. "That should have been a catch and a [third-down] conversion that kept the drive alive. Instead their kid made a nice interception and had a good return, and that was a huge game-changer."
"This hurt," Wood said afterward. "After preparing all summer, and all camp, then to come up short really hurts a lot."
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade