COLUMBUS — The Bowling Green State University football team could have mailed it in Friday.
The Falcons played their final "home" game of the season on the road, less than a week after seeing their dream of a Mid-American Conference East Division title dashed by a tough loss.
But BG coach Dave Clawson wasn’t worried.
“I felt we had a group that showed up and played hard for 11 weeks, and I didn’t think that would disappear in Week 12,” he said.
Clawson was right, as the Falcons used a dominating defensive effort and several big plays by the offense to claim a 21-7 win against Buffalo at Crew Stadium.
BG allowed the Bulls just 197 yards of total offense, including only 69 in the first three quarters, to finish the regular season with an 8-4 record overall and 6-2 in MAC play. Buffalo (4-8, 3-5) saw a three-game winning streak snapped.
Senior linebacker Dwayne Woods, who had 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks among his team-high six tackles, admitted putting last week’s loss in the rear-view mirror wasn’t simple.
“It was hard,” he said. “We won’t get a ring, but we still have some life left. We needed to push toward something: Being a team for another month.”
The Falcons finished with seven sacks against a Buffalo offense that had given up just 21 in its previous 11 games. Bowling Green finished with 11 tackles for loss that set the Bulls back 53 yards. As a result, Buffalo saw just one of its 14 drives gain more than 23 yards.
“We pressured a little more — we brought a little linebacker and safety pressure,” Clawson said. “Buffalo is pretty stout and has a pretty good line; it was not a game where you can straight rush them. If you just brought four, they could protect.
"So we brought some guys to create some movement and get them on the edges, and I thought our linebackers and safeties did a nice job of timing up the cadence and making some plays.”
Still, the game was scoreless until the Falcons put together a 12-play, 62-yard drive midway through the second quarter. Quarterback Matt Schilz completed 4 of 5 passes for 48 yards to kick-start the drive, but BG still needed a pass interference call on Buffalo on a third-down play to keep it alive.
Then, facing a fourth-and-goal from the Bulls’ 1-yard line, John Pettigrew found an opening off left tackle and scored with 5 minutes, 26 seconds to play.
“The offense got off to a slow start, so we knew we had to get something going,” he said. “We had to get that first touchdown to make us feel better and more comfortable.
“[On the fourth down play] it was ‘game time.’ I knew I had to make sure to do what I could. I noticed a lot of emotion after that first touchdown — people jumping around.”
The Falcons got a defensive stop, and on the next series Schilz threw a deep ball down the middle that Shaun Joplin snared in front of a defender for a 48-yard touchdown to make it 14-0 just before the half.
Midway through the third period BG got the ball near midfield and rode Pettigrew for another score. The senior ran the ball five times for 32 yards, then caught a pair of passes for eight yards to set up a seven-yard TD run by Schilz with 2:27 to play.
“Our line just got it together,” said Pettigrew, who finished with 93 yards rushing on 29 carries. “They stayed on blocks longer, and I just followed the blocks. They just opened the door for me.”
That was more than enough points thanks to the BG defense, which saw its shutout go up in smoke after Schilz threw an ill-advised screen pass that Buffalo’s Colby Way intercepted on the Falcons’ 41 and returned to 19. Two plays later Alex Dennison scored on a four-yard run with 9:59 to play.
“I could kick myself for saying it was OK to throw that screen,” Clawson said. “We just should have run it there, too. If we had given them a long field [instead of the short field], I think we would have shut them out.”
Buffalo did have one more drive into BG territory, but the Falcons got the stop and were able to run out the clock to claim their seventh win in the last eight games and strengthen their postseason bowl aspirations.
“We know we have a good team,” Pettigrew said. “We stuck together and remained confident. We knew we had a lot to play for, so we just kept pushing forward.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.