Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson (11) makes a pass as Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown (39) attempts to block in the first half of their NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Kerry Smith)
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STARKVILLE, Miss. — The Bowling Green State University football team gave itself a chance at Mississippi State on Saturday night.
The Falcons gave the Southeastern Conference school an early lead, then found a way to cut the margin to one point before the fourth quarter began. But BG never was able to deliver the winning punch as the Bulldogs claimed a 21-20 win at Davis Wade Stadium.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t win, but that’s the only thing I’m disappointed in,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “Our effort was outstanding, our preparation was great, and our kids played their hearts out. We just came up one point short.”
Bowling Green saw a three-game win streak end as it fell to 5-2, while Mississippi State is 3-3.
The Bulldogs dominated the early going, taking the opening kickoff and rolling 75 yards on just nine players. Starting quarterback Tyler Russell completed all five of his passes for 59 yards on the drive, and LaDarius Perkins capped the drive with a one-yard TD drive at 9 minutes, 58 seconds of the quarter.
The Falcons got a first down before they were forced to punt, but the defense provided a big play when BooBoo Gates intercepted a Dak Prescott pass and returned it to the Bulldogs’ 13.
Bowling Green running back Travis Greene evades Mississippi State defensive back Nickoe Whitley during the first half Saturday night in Starkville, Miss.
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But BG was pushed back four yards and had to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Tyler Tate.
Mississippi State quickly added a back-breaking touchdown when Prescott kept the ball on the option and rolled 75 yards to make it 14-3 Bulldogs with 5:16 still to play in the quarter.
“We knew they were good, and we knew we had to tighten our defense,” said defensive tackle Taylor Royster, who finished with one sack. “We came out with a better focus.
“After the first drive, we knew we could play with them. But we had some miscommunication that led to big plays. After that we tightened it up.”
The Falcons’ offense also got rolling in the second quarter and cut the deficit to one score with a six-play, 96-yard drive. BG did most of its damage on the ground as Travis Greene ran twice for 33 yards, and Matt Johnson carried it once for 13 before Andre Givens scored on a seven-yard run.
Givens’ TD run was set up by Johnson’s only completion on the drive, a 28-yard strike to Tyler Beck.
“We were calling the same plays we did at the beginning of the game,” said Johnson, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 224 yards. “We were just performing them at a higher level.
“I thought the offensive line gave me time … and the receivers were able to get separation against SEC-level players.”
On its next drive Mississippi State rolled 75 yards on 10 plays, with Prescott scoring from 10 yards out. BG gained some juice just before halftime by driving 48 yards on six plays in the final 64 seconds, with Tate tying his career high by making a 45-yard field goal.
BG’s first drive of the third quarter saw the Falcons cover 48 yards before Tate missed a 45-yard field goal. But Bowling Green got the ball back and covered 76 yards on seven plays, with Johnson finding the end zone from two yards out.
“Usually I start going for two in the fourth quarter,” Clawson said. “I wanted to keep us in the game; I didn’t want us to not get it, and if they score, we’re down nine [points] and it’s a two-score game. I thought about it, but I thought there was too much time left.”