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BOWLING GREEN — All season long the Bowling Green State University football team has been playing with fire.
The Falcons have consistently gotten off to slow starts, falling behind before catching up and, for the most part, passing opponents. But for the second game in the row, a slow start was too much to overcome as BG suffered a 28-25 loss to archrival Toledo on Saturday at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Two weeks earlier, the Falcons fell behind Mississippi State 14-3 and eventually lost 21-20.
“If I knew what the fix was, I’d fix it,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “I’ve said all year that, at some point when we face a really good football team … you can’t spot teams like that 14-0 and 21-0 leads.
“It would have been a heck of a comeback. I would have loved to have been in here, bragging about how great a comeback it was to come back from 21-0. But that’s a lot of points to spot any football team.
“I am proud of the effort our guys had coming back. But against good football teams you can’t fall that far behind that quickly.”
The Falcons’ early game struggles came on both sides of the ball. BG’s opening drive covered 52 yards but fell short when Ryan Burbrink dropped a fourth-down pass from Matt Johnson.
On the next two drives the Falcons gained just one first down — and it came on a penalty.
“It’s been a habit for us, not getting off to good starts,” senior offensive lineman Dominic Flewellyn said. “Somehow we have to change that because you can’t start slow against a good team, especially a rival.
“We knew what we were doing going in — we had a good game plan. We just have to execute better.”
Meanwhile the Bowling Green defense surrendered touchdowns on Toledo’s first three possessions. The Rockets raced 77 yards on seven plays for their first score; they ground out 89 yards on 18 plays for the second score; and then they took a three-touchdown lead with 4:19 left in the first half by scoring on an eight-play, 67-yard drive.
“We were going up against the same stuff we saw all week [in practice],” senior linebacker Paul Swan said. “We missed tackles, we mis-fit some things.
“We saw everything we practiced against us. It wasn’t like they threw anything different at us. We just got off to a slow start.”
To that point, the stats were tilted towards Toledo as the Rockets had 214 yards of total offense, including 156 yards rushing, while BG’s first three drives netted just 75 yards total, including just 18 rushing yards.
“We just can’t put all the pressure on our defense [early],” Flewellyn said. “That’s not good team ball if you lean on one side of the ball to win the game.
“We need to get some points on the board so they don’t have to play great defense.”
The Falcons did mount a 12-play, 81-yard drive just before the half to score a touchdown and get a leg back into the game, a drive Flewellyn said changed the mood of the team.
“Everyone was saying, ‘Alright, let’s go, we can get it now,’ ” he said. “Going down 21-0, you don’t know what to expect. After that, we felt we could [come back].
“It changed the morale of the team — we came out with energy.”
Bowling Green got a field goal in the third quarter, then scored the first 15 points of the fourth period, while the defense held Toledo to 47 yards of total offense on three drives. That allowed BG to forge a 25-21 advantage with 5:59 left in the game.
But that only set the Falcons up for heartbreak as the Rockets drove 70 yards and scored the game-winning TD with just 1:22 on the clock.
“[Slow starts have] happened too many times this season,” Swan said. “This time we weren’t able to come back from it.
“We’re ready to go, and we come out with great energy. We just play flat. We have to start changing that.”