BOWLING GREEN, OH - The Bowling Green Falcons are headed back to Detroit to seek a second consecutive Mid-American Conference Championship.
The Falcons (7-3, 5-1 MAC) earned a berth in the 2014 MAC Championship Game by clinching the MAC Eastern Division regular season crown with a 30-20 victory over the Kent State Golden Flashes on Wednesday night at Doyt Perry Stadium. It is the first time since 2003-04 that the same school has won MAC East titles in back-to-back seasons.
"It's a big thing to be able to do that twice," Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers said. "It's a very difficult league."
The Falcons fanned on their first scoring opportunity at the end of the game’s opening drive as Tyler Tate missed a 36-yard field goal attempt. But when BGSU forced a three-and-out punt, the hosts took over their own 42-yard line.
"I really think one of the keys to the game was how well the defense played early," Babers said.
A 32-yard run by Andre Givens highlighted the Falcons seven-play, 58-yard drive, and Givens took it over the left side from six-yards out to finish the trip at 8:17 of the opening period.
Kent State was unable to muster any offense on their second possession, but a better punt buried BGSU at its own 18. The Falcons were still at the 18 two plays later when James Knapke lobbed a long pass down the middle to Roger Lewis. The freshman caught it in stride and raced into the end zone for an 82-yard score. The lightning strike gave BGSU a 14-0 edge just 9:13 into the game.
"He was throwing some nice balls," Baber said of Knapke. "If they were playing some other defenses, we might have thrown the ball 60 or 70 times, because I thought he was on fire. I thought he was on the mark."
The Falcons were finally forced to punt on their fourth possession, but even that went against the Flashes. KSU's Jerrell Foster touched Joe Davidson's punt on the return, which made it a live ball. Brian Sutton recovered the fumble for the Falcons at the KSU 35-yard line. Tate converted the fumble recovery into points seven plays later with a 37-yard field goal.
After the Falcons' defense forced another punt, BGSU moved 75 yards in eight plays before Tate kicked a 22-yard field goal. The put Bowling Green up 20-0.
At that point, Kent State replaced starting quarterback Nathan Strock with Colin Reardon. On his second possession, Reardon led the Golden Flashes on an 11-play, 92-yard drive that took 5:56 off the clock. He threw to Chris Humphrey four times for 65 yards along the way, and the final of those completions was a 21-yard touchdown pass with 0:38 remaining in the first half.
BGSU led 20-7 at halftime, and the two teams traded punts on the first four possessions of the second half. The last punt gave Kent State possession at the BGSU 30, but the Flashes failed to score as Reardon threw an interception to Clint Stephens.
Two plays later, Chris Pohlman fumbled and Kent State's Najee Murray recovered at the BGSU 6. On third-and-goal, Reardon threw a fade into the right corner of the end zone for a four-yard touchdown pass that cut the BGSU lead to 20-14.
The Falcons were quickly forced to punt again, and Kent State had an opportunity to take the lead. Reardon led a drive into BGSU territory, but he again threw an interception, this time to Gabe Martin.
Martin's interception provided a spark to BGSU's offense, and Knapke led them on a 15-play drive that resulted in a 21-yard field goal by Tate.
The boot provided Bowling Green with a 23-14 lead with 11:59 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Kent State responded immediately with a six-play, 60-yard touchdown drive that took just 2:18 off the clock. Reardon's 14-yard pass to Casey Pierce cut BGSU's lead to 23-20, but Anthony Melchiori's missed extra point kept the BGSU lead at three.
Knapke gambled with another deep pass to open the following drive, and the 45-yard completion to Ryan Burbrink moved the Falcons well into Kent State territory. A 33-yard strike to Lewis then put the ball at the two, and Givens plunged into the end zone on the next play. Tate's extra point provided the final margin in BGSU's 30-20 victory.
The BGSU defense sealed the victory with interceptions of Reardon on KSU's final two possessions -- first by Ryland Ward and then by Taylor Royster.
BGSU's offense ran 96 plays and possessed the ball for 34:14. It accumulated 527 total yards, including 315 through the air and 212 on the ground. The Falcons converted 12 of 22 attempts on third down.
On defense, the Falcons allowed 61 plays for 328 yards, including a paltry 22 rushing yards. KSU was just 3-for-11 on third down, and BGSU forced five turnovers.
Knapke was 22-of-37 for 315 yards, one touchdown and one interception on the night. Givens carried the ball 38 times for 157 yards, both of which are career-highs. He also scored two touchdowns. Burbrink caught eight passes for 111 yards, while Lewis led the team with 116 receiving yards and a touchdown on just three receptions. Gehrig Dieter added six catches for 78 yards.
Reardon came in as a reserve for Kent State, but he finished with 24 completions in 37 attempts. The sophomore threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns, but he also added four costly interceptions. Pierce led the Flashes with 12 catches for 127 yards, while Humphrey added eight for 132. Nick Holley paced the KSU rushing attack with 11 carries for 21 yards.
Bowling Green is now 7-3 overall and 5-1 in MAC play. The newly-crowned Eastern Division Champions will be at Toledo Wednesday night (Nov. 19) before concluding the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 at home against Ball State.
"The story is not over yet," Babers said. That (winning the MAC East) was a really, really good chapter. ... It's going to be exciting to see how the story ends."
The Falcons will then head to Detroit for the 2014 MAC Championship Game on Friday, Dec. 5 at Ford Field. The MAC West representative has yet to be determined.
Kent State heads to Buffalo next Wednesday (8 p.m. ET) before hosting rival Akron Tuesday, Nov. 25 (7 p.m. ET).
(Courtesy of BGSU Athletics/MRO Edit)