Bowling Green’s Travis Greene runs the ball against Pittsburgh’s Anthony Gonzalez in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Greene, a sophomore, set a BG season record with 1,594 rushing yards.
If the Bowling Green State University football team’s 2013 season were a movie, the credits would have started rolling right about the time the Mid-American Conference championship game ended.
At that point the Falcons had knocked off nationally-ranked Northern Illinois and claimed the program’s first MAC title since 1992.
But the season didn’t follow a Hollywood script, and BG played one more time. While the Falcons suffered a 30-27 loss Thursday to Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Detroit’s Ford Field, none of the players or coaches felt that should diminish the team’s accomplishments.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way this group handled itself the past three weeks, what they accomplished in the last five months, and what they accomplished in our five years as a staff,” BG interim coach Adam Scheier said.
Scheier’s reference to five years ago marks the time Dave Clawson took over as head coach. In 2009 he and his new staff led a senior-dominated team to a bowl bid, but those seniors graduated and the Falcons fell to 2-10 the next year.
But Clawson and his staff steadily built the program to 5-7 in 2011 and a bowl bid and 8-5 finish in ’12. This season everything came together as Bowling Green won the MAC East with a 7-1 record, then clobbered No. 16 Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game. Clawson then accepted the head coaching job at Wake Forest.
Next season new head coach Dino Babers will be in charge of a program that will be among the early favorites to repeat as champs of the East and contend for the MAC title.
Offensively the Falcons return nearly every skill player. Running back Travis Greene, a sophomore, set a school season record with 1,594 yards rushing and scored 11 touchdowns, while quarterback Matt Johnson, a sophomore, completed more than 64 percent of his passes for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. Johnson’s top two targets have graduated, but seven of the next eight are back.
The biggest losses are on the offensive line, where senior All-MAC performers Dominic Flewellyn and David “Chief” Kekuewa graduate.
“They have some linemen coming back who are going to be better than I was,” Flewellyn said. “We have all of the skill guys coming back besides [Joplin].”
The Falcons’ nationally-ranked defense will lose six starters, including cornerbacks Cameron Truss (56 tackles) and Aaron Foster (51 tackles) and All-MAC safety Gates (71 tackles) in the backfield; linebacker Paul Swan (68 tackles); and linemen Jairus Campbell (33 tackles) and Ted Ouellet (32 tackles).
“Defensively we have guys behind me who could play just as well as me,” Gates said. “On the defensive line we lose two interior guys [in Ouellet and Campbell], but we have young guys coming back who can fill those holes.
“And at linebacker we have D.J. Lynch and Gabe Martin coming back, and we have young guys like Coy Brown and Paul Senn and Nate Locke who will get the playbook down – I know they will play hard.”
But Scheier said measuring the status of the program is about more than the players who return.
“The program has never been in better shape,” he said. “I know coach Babers will take over and expand on that. Focus was never an issue because of where the program is. We have a bunch of senior and upperclass leaders, there’s a [positive] culture in the lockerroom.
“I joked that we could have rolled the ball out and let them practice themselves — they would have handled themselves like professionals.”
And while the ending to the season wasn’t perfect, Gates and Flewellyn both said that didn’t diminish what the Falcons had accomplished.
“It was a great feeling to finish with my brothers [playing] one more time,” Gates said. “I didn’t want that feeling to end.”