ATHENS, Ohio — The game was billed as a battle between the fine defense of the Bowling Green State University football team facing the strong offense from Ohio University.
The Falcons defense won that battle, limiting Ohio to 244 yards of total offense and just two touchdowns. But it was Bowling Green’s punt return unit that proved to be the difference in a 26-14 victory at Peden Stadium Wednesday.
BG blocked a pair of punts and took advantage of two other misplays by Ohio’s punting unit. That set up two touchdowns and a field goal, and also led directly to a safety, good for a total of 19 points.
"Our defense was outstanding, and our special teams made a huge difference in this game," Falcons coach Dave Clawson said. "[Special teams coach Adam] Scheier did a great job scheming up the punt blocks."
The victory, Bowling Green’s sixth in a row, improved its record to 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the Mid-American Conference, setting up a potential East Division title contest versus Kent State at Doyt Perry Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 17.
Ohio fell to 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the MAC.
The Bobcats struck first, taking the opening kickoff and driving 72 yards on 11 plays, including nine runs. The last of those rushes was a five-yard scoring jaunt by Bobcats quarterback Tyler Tettleton.
But after that the Falcons defense clamped down, allowing OU to gain just seven net yards on its next four possessions. The Falcons’ strong defensive effort forced the Bobcats to punt, and good things generally happened for BG every time that happened.
Late in the first quarter, Ohio set up to punt on its 28, and BG's Brian Sutton broke through to block Grant Venham's punt. The ball rolled out of bounds on the Bobcats' 20 with seven seconds left in the quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, Anthon Samuel ran through the line and carried a pile of Bobcats 15 yards for a touchdown that tied the game with 14 minutes, 52 seconds to play before halftime.
Bowling Green took the lead midway through the second quarter thanks to a little razzle-dazzle. One a first down play near midfield quarterback Matt Schilz pump-faked, then seemed to hand the ball off the John Pettigrew, who was smothered by a Bobcat defender.
One problem for Ohio: Schilz still had the ball, and he fired it downfield to a wide open Chris Gallon for a 55-yard touchdown with 7:29 left in the half.
Late in the second quarter, Ohio was forced to punt again, and Venham fumbled the snap on his 31. He picked up the ball and ran, gaining just four yards — on a fourth-and-18 play — to give the Falcons the ball on the Bobcats' 35.
Bowling Green wasn't able to punch the ball into the end zone, but Tyler Tate kicked a 35-yard field goal to make it 17-7 with 1:46 left in the first half.
The Falcons defense made one more quick stop, forcing OU to punt again, and this time the snap rolled to Matt Weller, the Bobcats' normal placekicker. Weller eventually covered the ball in the end zone, and Jude Adjei-Barimah and Cameron Truss combined for the safety that made it 19-7 with just 18 seconds to play before halftime.
"[The punt-return team] knew we had to make a difference in the game," Adjei-Barimah said. "Guys went out there and made the plays that were necessary.
"We knew, after we got one, that we could get at least one more. That was a good job by Brian getting us started with the first block, and when they started fumbling punts that really got us going."
Ohio got back into the game with a 14-play, 95-yard drive on its first possession of the second half. The drive was aided by a controversial pass interference call on a third-and-seven incompletion, and Tettleton capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to Chase Cochran with 6:54 left in the third quarter.
But with the Bobcats threatening to take the lead, Bowling Green leaned on its punt return team — and got a second block. This one came when Adjei-Barimah broke through and swatted a punt by Venham, with Sutton recovering the ball on Ohio’s 29 with 3:04 left in the quarter.
The Falcons eventually punched the ball into the end zone, with Samuel scoring on a 4-yard run on the first play of the fourth period. Samuel, who did not play the previous week against Eastern Michigan, finished with 29 carries for a career-high 181 yards.
"I thought [my injury] was a minor setback that prepared me for a major comeback," Samuel said. "We were keeping Ohio’s offense off the field, and we were running the ball the tire out the defense."
Ohio tried to drive down the field late in the game, but a 16-yard sack by Aaron Foster on a third-down play helped the Falcons keep the Bobcats out of the end zone, and BG ran out the clock to preserve the win.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 and onTwitter @jwagnerblade.