BOWLING GREEN — In its biggest game of the season, everything was turned upside-down for the Bowling Green State University football team.
The Falcon run defense that ranked among the best in country? It was shredded for 334 yards and three touchdowns.
The run game that had carried BG to six straight wins? It was held to just 83 yards, including just 24 in the second half.
Yet Bowling Green found a way to keep its hopes for a Mid-American Conference East Division title alive until the game’s next-to-last play, when a desperation heave into the end zone by Matt Schilz was picked off by Kent State’s Luke Wollet in the end zone with 21 seconds left.
That interception preserved the Golden Flashes’ 31-24 win at Doyt Perry Stadium Saturday.
“After two years of struggling and not winning games, we finally turned it around this year,” Schilz said. “This is just heart breaking. You don’t get many opportunities like this, but they made a couple more plays than we did.”
The victory gave Kent State the East Division crown with a 7-0 league record and likely cemented the Flashes’ Top 25 ranking with a 10-1 mark.
Bowling Green, which saw a six-game win streak end in falling to 7-4 and 5-2, was left to lament the opportunity that slipped through its hands.
“This hurts — this is one of the worst feelings I’ve had after an athletic contest in my life,” said junior linebacker Paul Swan. “It [stinks] not sending the seniors out the right way, and it [stinks] not making it to the MAC Championship game.
“It [stinks] for a lot of reasons. We’ve got to bounce back and beat Buffalo because we can still make a bowl game. But this feels terrible right now.”
What made the loss especially painful was Bowling Green’s struggles to do what it had done well. That held especially true for the defense, which allowed KSU’s Dri Archer to race for 241 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Going in to the game, he concerned us with his ability to make big plays,” Falcons coach Dave Clawson said of Archer. “And he did it today.
“You watch highlight clips of [Archer] making big play after big play after big play, but that can’t change what you do fundamentally. We missed some tackles in tight space. … He made our guys miss, just like he makes everybody miss.”
Archer’s first lightning strike came in the second quarter, with Kent State leading 3-0. He took a handoff, raced through the line, then outran the defense for a 79-yard TD run.
The Falcons used a suddenly resurgent passing attack to climb back into the game. On the next play from scrimmage Schilz found Chris Gallon alone over the middle, and Gallon galloped 72 yards for a score.
Soon after that safety Josh Pettus forced a Kent State turnover when he stripped KSU’s Eric Adeyemi of the ball and recovered it on the Flashes’ 41, and Tyler Tate’s 30-yard field goal tied things at 10-10.
The BG defense created another turnover on the first drive of the second half — Cameron Truss forced a fumble, and Aaron Foster recovered it — and the Falcons took a 17-10 lead when Schilz found Shaun Joplin on a 27-yard scoring strike.
Kent State tied the game on its next possession thanks mainly to Archer, who gained 38 yards on three plays to set up a 32-yard TD toss from Keith to Adeyemi.
All that was prelude to a spellbinding fourth quarter in which both teams struck early for big plays.
Archer scored first on a winding, amazing 74-yard touchdown run around, under and through the BG defense on the fourth play of the period.
“[Archer] was the ‘X’ factor in this game,” Clawson said. “We made big plays through design, but they got big plays just through the normal course of their offense.
“That’s what having a weapon like that will do. He’s the real deal. He’s a great player.”
On the next play from scrimmage Schilz found Gallon down the far sideline, and Gallon raced 81 yards for the game-tying score. Gallon finished with 10 catches for 213 yards, while Schilz completed 22-of-44 passes for a season-high 355 yards.
After a KSU punt, Bowling Green made the mistake that cost them the game when Schilz threw a pass that was tipped at the line by the Flashes’ Roosevelt Nix and then caught by Richard Gray at the Falcons’ 20.
Four plays later Keith ran seven yards for the game-winning TD with 8:06 to play.
Bowling Green mounted two drives into Kent State territory after that touchdown, but saw a fourth-down pass fall incomplete on the first and the interception end the second.
All that was left was for the Falcons to pick up the pieces of their shattered title dreams and focus on a bowl opportunity
“It would be great, and we really hope that happens,” Clawson said of the bowls. “We have one more regular-season game, and it will be a challenge, especially after a game like this, to rebound and play a good Buffalo team.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.