Bowling Green's William Houston, center, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Tulsa at Doyt Perry Stadium in Bowling Green. The Falcons blew open the close game in the second half.
But did the Falcons expect a 34-7 thrashing?
“No, but it was great that we did,” said a smiling BooBoo Gates.
The BG defense, ranked among the best in FBS last season, made a statement with an impressive effort that limited the Golden Hurricane to just 273 yards of total offense, including just 212 yards in the first three quarters.
Tulsa’s lone touchdown came with just 5:56 left in the contest, with Bowling Green already leading by 34.
The final score gave no indication of how the first half was played, as both offenses struggled. But the key was that BG made a pair of field goals, with Tyler Tate connecting from 34 yards midway through the first quarter and on a 28-yard kick with just two seconds left in the half, as BG led 6-0 at the break.
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Tulsa missed a pair of first-half field goals, but the key defensive play of the first half came with the Golden Hurricane on BG’s 18 midway through the second quarter. Tulsa threw a pass in the flat, but Gates stripped the ball from Derek Patterson and Aaron Foster recovered it on the BG 2.
“He had the ball down, treating it like a loaf of bread,” Gates said. “When I hit him, it rolled.
“I thought he might have been out of bounds, but when the beanbags came out [to spot the fumble] and we recovered it, it was a big, heads-up play.”
From there the defense held, limiting Tulsa’s Trey Watts to just 8 yards and Ja’Terian Douglas to 22. The Golden Hurricane, which averaged nearly 250 yards rushing last season, had just 51 net yards against the Falcons.
"I think our defense is extremely well-coached, but I also think we are very physical," coach Dave Clawson said. "The way to win the run game is to win it on the line, and I thought our defensive line was very stout. We also tackled well.
"It also helped that our offense controlled the ball. We had the ball for 18 minutes in the first half and 38 minutes in the game."
Gates, who tied with Paul Swan for the team lead with seven tackles, agreed, adding “We wanted to stop their big runs. We knew the front seven would have a big game, and we just had to play their deep shots.”
“You can’t go out there scared – you have to have confidence. But as the game went on, we gained a lot of confidence.”
The offense seemed to come alive in the second half as quarterback Matt Johnson gained his legs in his first extensive action. Johnson came in on the game’s third series, but his best drive in the game was the first of the second half, where he led the Falcons 75 yards on six plays.
“We had decided earlier in the week that Matt Johnson would play,” Clawson said. “Before the game we made a decision to put Matt Johnson in before the third or fourth series, and when we put him in I thought he gave us a spark.
“We kept with what we thought was the hot hand.”
Freshman William Houston capped that drive with a 1-yard TD run, the first of three 1-yard touchdowns he scored in the game.
The game turned midway through the third period, when the Falcons pinned Tulsa on its own 7 with 2:01 left in the third quarter, and with time running out in the period forced a fourth-and-1 from the 16.
The Golden Hurricane lined up in punt formation, but punter Cole Way tried to run for the first down. Cameron Truss made a fine open-field tackle a yard short of the first down, and BG was in business.
Four plays later William Houston bulled in from a yard out for his second touchdown of the night.
Bowling Green’s next drive stalled near midfield, and Brian Schmiedebusch punted a ball that Trey Watts muffed – and BooBoo Gates recovered – on the Tulsa 8.
Houston pounded the ball to the 1, then scored on the next play.
Midway through the fourth quarter Gates recovered a muffed punt on Tulsa’s 8, with Houston scoring two plays later. Then the Falcons forced a punt, and Ryan Burbrink returned the punt 67 yards for a touchdown that made it 34-0 with 6:48 left.
“Did I think we would beat them by 27? No,” Clawson admitted. “But did I think we could win? Absolutely.”