YPSILANTI, Mich. – The Bowling Green State University football team’s margin of victory is too small for the Falcons to overcome mistakes and still win.
Two touchdowns called back by penalties? Misfits in alignment leading to struggles in stopping the run? Breakdowns at crucial times on both sides of the ball?
The Falcons could not overcome all that and suffered a 34-31 loss to Eastern Michigan at Rynearson Stadium Tuesday in the Mid-American Conference finale for both schools.
“The struggles were self-inflicted,” BG coach Mike Jinks said. “It was the story of our year – we couldn’t get out of our own way.
“We talked about at halftime that, if we took care of our business, we would have a chance to win the game late.”
Bowling Green finished 2-10 overall and 2-6 in the MAC; it marked the second time in program history the Falcons have lost 10 games in the season, matching the 2010 squad with the same record.
“There’s a lot of frustration,” said linebacker Brandon Harris. “But we’re going to focus on the positive and build on that instead of focusing on the negative. …
“Next year starts Monday.”
Eastern Michigan (5-7 overall, 3-5 MAC) controlled the ball to start the game, but the Falcons forced a mistake on EMU’s opening drive and quickly capitalized on it. Bowling Green’s Montre Gregory stepped in front of a Brogan Roback pass for an interception that gave the Falcons the ball on their 28.
On the next play, Josh Cleveland broke through the line practically untouched and raced 72 yards for a touchdown, giving Bowling Green a 7-0 lead with 9:46 still on the clock in the first quarter.
But that momentum was quickly squashed as the Falcons surrendered a 53-yard kickoff return to Blake Banham on the ensuing kick, and a 15-yard personal foul on Nilijah Ballow set EMU up on the BG 25. And two plays later, Roback threw an 18-yard TD toss to Sergio Bailey to tie the game at 7-7 with 9:06 still on the clock.
After a Bowling Green punt, Roback found Mathew Sexton with a pass that covered 34 yards, setting up a 30-yard Paulie Fricano field goal to give Eastern Michigan a 10-7 lead with 5:39 left.
Again BG squandered some good fortune as Matt Wilcox returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown – that was ruined by a block in the back that pushed the Falcons back to their own 8. On the Falcons’ first play, Cleveland fumbled and Eastern Michigan’s Brody Hoying fell on the ball on the BG 13.
“You can’t let that linger, but our guys have been resilient all year,” Jinks said. “We’ve shown the ability to bounce back when adversity strikes.”
But the Falcons pushed the Eagles back, and EMU had to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Fricano with 3:49 still on the clock.
Bowling Green quarterback Jarret Doege directed a drive that saw the Falcons march to the Eagles’ 17, but that drive stalled and Jake Suder kicked a 30-yard FG with 25 seconds left in first quarter.
Roback, a St. John’s Jesuit graduate, was injured at the end of Eastern Michigan previous drive, and the Falcons took advantage of the quarterback change to force a three-and-out. Then Doege completed four passes for 50 yards to set up his own two-yard TD run that gave BG a 17-13 lead with 10:57 to play in the second quarter.
The Falcons stopped the Eagles in their next two drives but did not manage any offense, either, and EMU took the ball on its 25 with 4:58 on the clock.
And suddenly Bowling Green could not stop the Eastern Michigan running game, which rumbled for 58 yards on eight plays. Ian Eriksen punched the ball into the end zone from a yard out just 58 seconds before halftime to give the Eagles a 20-17 halftime lead.
To start the second half the Falcons continued their struggles with penalties wiping out key plays. Three runs by Cleveland covering 23 yards and a personal foul on Eastern Michigan moved BG to EMU’s 36, but a personal foul on the Falcons forced a first-and-25 from the Falcons 49.
Bowling Green seemed to recover when Andrew Clair scored on a 32-yard run that – you guessed it – was called back by a hold. Eventually Suder was called on to try a 52-yard field goal that fell short.
“I thought the penalties were caused by guys playing outside themselves,” Jinks said. “We wanted to play the fastest, most physical game we played all year – but we also had to play smart.”
And Eastern Michigan promptly rammed the ball down BG’s throat. Quarterback Isaac Stiebeling kept the ball on a 36-yard keeper on the Eagles’ first play, and after the Falcons forced a fourth-and-6 from its own 26, Stiebeling completed a nine-yard pass to Antoine Porter to convert the first down.
On the next play Eriksen rumbled 17 yards for a TD that gave Eastern Michigan a 27-17 lead with 8:49 to go in the third period.
But the Falcons were not finished. Doege completed 5-of-6 pass attempts for 62 yards on the ensuing drive, including a 20-yard TD catch by Teo Redding – per usual, a highlight-reel quality jump and catch – that brought BG to within 27-24 with 6:36 left in the third quarter.
“They were giving us what we wanted,” said Doege, who completed 21-of-34 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns. “We just needed to execute the whole game.”
Then the Eagles, who inexplicably tried to throw three passes on their previous series, returned to the ground game and rolled for 60 yards before throwing a seven-yard completion to convert a third-down play. Two plays later Eriksen scored on a nine-yard cutback run on the final play of the third period, putting the Eagles back on top 34-31.
“Our struggles to stop the run were from a lack of execution,” said linebacker Brandon Harris, who led the Falcons with 12 tackles. “People weren’t fitting in their gaps. People weren’t doing their jobs, and they did a good job exploiting that.”
Bowling Green seemed poised to tie the game when Doege directed a drive from the Falcons’ 37 to EMU’s 12. But the drive stalled, and Suder’s 29-yard attempt to tie the game sailed wide right.
The Falcons defense rose up and forced a punt, but the offense found itself in a fourth-and-1 position from its own 41. And a convocation of Eagles met Cleveland in the backfield for a loss of three years with 4:47 left to play.
“We felt if we couldn’t get that yard, it wasn’t our night,” Jinks said. “We went for it – and we didn’t make it.
“We cut the defensive end loose and he came through untouched. That didn’t happen too many times tonight, but that was the wrong time for it to happen.”
Doege blamed himself for even allowing the Falcons to reach that point.
“Right before that I had overthrown Scottie, and if I had hit him we wouldn’t have had to go for it on fourth down,” he said. “That was more frustrating than the fourth-down play.”
From there Eastern Michigan ran out the clock to close out BG’s loss — and Doege echoed the words of Harris about the 2018 season.
“A lot of the underclassmen are ready to change the culture around here,” Doege said. “They’re ready to stop the losing seasons – and go win a MAC championship.”
Jinks wanted to take a moment first to honor the seniors who played their final game for the Falcons.
“I’m going to go inside and hug these seniors,” Jinks said. “In an adverse situation they kept their heads up and continued to fight.
“We didn’t have anything to play for, and that group of seniors made sure we played the right way.”
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