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Published: Wednesday, 7/30/2008

Falcons still feeling sting of bowl loss

DETROIT - Antonio Smith saw stars.

The Bowling Green football player is still seeing them. The video of the violent hit (we might say helmet-to-helmet hit, except the game officials had apparently lost interest by that point) Smith took during last January's GMAC Bowl has merited 4 1/2 stars out of a possible 5 by viewers on YouTube.

For all of the pain and abuse he took, you'd figure Smith might be bitter over not getting a perfect score.

"Nah, I wish I could take a couple of the stars off," he said yesterday at the Mid-American Conference's 2008 football preview at Ford Field. "I've watched it a few times. I know it's the worst I've ever been hit in my life."

The Falcons already were trailing Tulsa 42-7 when Smith fielded a tall punt with plenty of hang time. Before he could take a stride, before he even had a chance to look up, a Tulsa player named Roy Roberts lambasted Smith and sent his helmet flying at least 10 yards in the opposite direction. Anyone in Mobile that night - inside the stadium, in the parking lot, or five miles away in a noisy tavern - must have heard the crack of helmets and pads.

BG went on to lose the game by a margin greater than any team had ever lost a bowl game. The final score was 63-7.

"You can really sum the game up with that hit," Smith said. "Anything that could go wrong did go wrong. And my helmet came off, which made that play even worse."

Give Smith some credit. He somehow held on to the ball. BG had already lost four fumbles.

The Falcons filed off the field that night a beaten, whipped group. Tarred and feathered, so to speak.

"We could have kept our heads down or we could move on," Smith said. "We know we're better than that. So, we've used it as motivation. It drove us during winter conditioning, during spring ball, all summer during our workouts.

"The bad taste is still in my mouth and I know it left a chip on all of our shoulders. We have to prove to the nation we're better than that."

The Falcons, however, did not need to prove much to the MAC Media Association. Its preseason poll gives BG the nod, albeit by the slightest of margins, over Miami to win the MAC East Division this season.

Bowling Green returns 18 starters and has 22 seniors on its roster. Smith, a cornerback from Florida, qualifies for both groups and is one of four starters returning to the secondary. As a true freshman playing in his first college game, Smith delivered a jarring hit while blitzing Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco. So, he can give as well as he can take.

But he hopes it will be the Falcons' opponents who are seeing stars in '08.

At least coach Gregg Brandon and his crew have a pretty good idea of what they have to do to win.

Last season, BG captured turnover margin in eight games and lost it in five, including the bowl game against Tulsa. And the team's final record was 8-5.

Maybe you can learn from losing.

"We stressed it all spring and we'll keep stressing it," Brandon said. "You have to keep the ball and you have to go get the ball. It's right there for our guys in black and white."

If they prefer color, there's always YouTube.



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