Falcon ‘D’ dominates final bowl audition as BG puts end to Bulls’ 3-game winning streak

The Fal­cons fin­ished with seven sacks against a Buf­falo including this one by.Brian Sutton on Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata.
The Fal­cons fin­ished with seven sacks against a Buf­falo including this one by.Brian Sutton on Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata.

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.

Bowling Green wide receiver Shaun Joplin pulls in a touchdown catch against Buffalo defender Najja Johnson.
Bowling Green wide receiver Shaun Joplin pulls in a touchdown catch against Buffalo defender Najja Johnson.

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: jwag­ner@the­blade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twit­ter @jwag­ner­blade.