The Bowling Green Falcons and Western Michigan Broncos played their first of four midweek #MACtion games, and despite the lack of scoring, it still had some elements of a thriller. The Falcons continued their surge and won their fourth game in five tries, pulling out a 13-9 victory despite losing the turnover battle and being outgained as an offense.
The game was won and lost during the point-after attempt by Western Michigan after its first and only touchdown. Corey Crooms raced into the end zone on a 39-yard catch-and-run to get the Broncos back into the mix after a 13-0 deficit. The score updated to 13-6 and was assumed to evolve into a six-point game following the extra point. But a low snap was mishandled by the punter Nick Mihalic and the margin remained seven at Doyt L. Perry Stadium.
Still, the complexion of the game hardly changes if that extra point had been converted because WMU head coach Tim Lester made a decision to kick a field goal two drives later from the 14-yard line. With the score 13-9 and 5:28 remaining in the contest, the Broncos were in the same position as before the field goal. They still needed a touchdown to affect the result of the game.
Western Michigan would not get the touchdown they needed, but the Broncos still earned another shot in the red zone. Their final drive ended at the Bowling Green 19-yard line when the Falcons applied pressure to true freshman quarterback Treyson Bourguet, making a critical stop to turn the Broncos over on downs.
It was clear this game was going to be a defensive slugfest from the onset. Coming into the game, neither offense had been setting the MAC on fire, with Bowling Green’s 34-18 performance against Central Michigan serving as the exception.
Western Michigan received the opening kick and sent Bourguet on the field for his second career start. There was some mystery about which quarterback would start. Jack Salopek had been in the No. 1 role until a tough outing against Ohio, and while Bourguet guided the offense during a 16-10 win at Miami (OH), the victory was largely due to a dominant defensive showing.
Running back Sean Tyler broke a 15-yard run on the first play but was bottled up for the rest of the series. Bourguet was forced into a long third-down pass and the Broncos punted the ball away after four plays. That sequence would be a pattern for the Bronco offense throughout the night against a Bowling Green defense making midseason strides.
Falcons quarterback Matt McDonald took over at his own 20-yard line, hoping to replicate his highly efficient outing from the previous week. But his drive stalled at midfield after a promising start from the quarterback and running back Ta’ron Keith .
Bowling Green and Western Michigan traded three more punts until the Bronco defense made the first big play.
The Falcons were winning the field position battle during the punt-fest and started a drive at Western Michigan’s 38-yard line. Running back Jaison Patterson had converted a third and one with a rush off the left side when cornerback Keni-H Lovely ripped the ball away to create the game's first turnover.
Western Michigan was unable to feed off that momentum as Bourguet gave the ball back on the very next play. The Broncos were eager to make Bowling Green’s turnover costly and ambitiously pushed the ball into double coverage to wide receiver Corey Crooms. Instead, Falcons safety Chris Bacon intercepted the pass and returned it all the way to the WMU 25.
The Falcons moved the ball down to the WMU six-yard line on seven consecutive passes from McDonald. The first six were completed and the last, his first incompletion of the game, was knocked away by Bronco cornerback Dorian Jackson in the corner of the endzone. Kicker Mason Lawler broke the seal with a 24-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 3-0 lead. The Falcons would never trail for the remainder of the game.
Sean Tyler finally handed Western Michigan workable field position by returning the ball to the WMU 41, despite getting taken off his feet by the Bowling Green kicker.
.@BG_Football's kicker wasn't afraid to lower the shoulder pic.twitter.com/XZSMPDYwaq— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 3, 2022
The Bowling Green front seven set the tone against the WMU running game during the next Bronco possession and stopped consecutive one-yard to-go plays to force a turnover on downs.
The Falcons were unable to turn the good field position into points and turned the ball over on a strange fumble. Was McDonald in control of the ball with his arm moving forward? You be the judge.
Yes, this was a fumble. #MACtion pic.twitter.com/PdZjRnI7vc— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) November 3, 2022
The officials gave the ball to WMU but the Broncos’ struggling offense couldn’t get out of its own way. They punted from midfield on a 4th and 21 after two penalties set them back.
After a touchback, the Falcons started at their own 20-yard line. A face mask penalty and Keith getting loose for a 32-yard rush did most of the lifting to get into field goal range. A negative rush by Keith gave the Broncos the margin they needed to keep the drive to a field goal and the game went to halftime with the Falcons leading 6-0.
Bowling Green held a statistical edge in the first half but was unable to turn the advantage into touchdowns. The Bronco defense had done its job and kept their struggling offense in it. In much the same way, the Falcon defense was excellent. They allowed only three receptions for 17-yards.
Bowling Green would get their touchdown on the opening drive of the second half. Keith returned the second-half kick-off 83-yards to the WMU 17 to set the drive up.
Come for the @Taronkeith4 return, stay for the fans' celebration @BG_Football | #MACtion pic.twitter.com/JZg1ZadiDj— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 3, 2022
Two Jaison Patterson runs set up a third and one from the WMU 8. Tight end turned fullback Harold Fannin Jr did the rest.
TIGHT END RUSH TD @fannin_jr keeps churning to get in for 6!@BG_Football | #MACtion pic.twitter.com/ALL0roSmI8— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 3, 2022
It is Fannin’s fourth rushing touchdown of the season on six carries. If Fannin is in the backfield in the redzone, he’s getting the ball and he’s scoring a touchdown.
The next drive for the Broncos could’ve been a moment where this game got away from them. After moving the ball to midfield with five plays and a third down conversion, Tyler fumbled the ball, but it was recovered by a heads-up WMU lineman. Three plays later he would fumble again, but not be lucky enough for a Bronco to end up with it. Darren Anders forced and recovered the fumble, but the Broncos would respond.
The defense forced a three-and-out and got the offense the ball with decent field position. Bourguet started the drive by getting consecutive passes broken up by Jordan Anderson and DJ Taylor. On third and ten a designed quarterback draw got the drive moving. Corey Crooms is a great weapon for the Bronco offense, but they’ve had so many quarterback problems, he’s been limited by his own offense. He showed what he can do on the 39-yard touchdown pass where he made multiple defenders miss on his way to the endzone.
Bowling Green was poised to deliver a backbreaker to the Broncos with their next drive. Starting at their own 26, they moved the ball into WMU territory with multiple chunk plays. Receiver Odieu Hiliare caught an eight-yard pass, Patterson ran the ball for 11-yards and receiver CJ Lewis caught a 15-yard pass. After a momentary stall, Matt McDonald delivered a great ball to tight end Christian Sims for 26 yards on 4th and 9. Finally, on second and five Sims got the ball on an end around and had the endzone within reach until safety Delano Ware punched it out at the last possible moment. Linebacker Zaire Barnes recovered the fumble in the endzone.
Bowling Green touchdo— NOPE. Touchback. #MACtion pic.twitter.com/yHurYlX1pD— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) November 3, 2022
The Broncos and Falcons traded punts on their next drives. With time dwindling in a seven-point game, the Broncos came alive. The drive was saved by a roughing the passer penalty on 3rd and 8, but two plays later, Corey Crooms made another 34-yard catch. With first and goal from the eight, a mishandled snap wasted a down and lost nine yards. The Broncos were faced with a 4th and goal from the 14. It’s not an easy conversion but a field goal doesn’t change the game situation. Still, a field goal made it 13-9 still in favor of Bowling Green.
The Broncos got the ball back with four minutes left in the game after another three-and-out from the Falcon offense. This drive was built around Corey Crooms who was targetted four times and had three catches for 64-yards. Immediately after a 48-yard catch, Crooms dropped a short pass that ended up being crucial to the drive. Bourguet overthrew receiver Jehlani Galloway on the next play and a critical third down faced the Broncos. It was no secret that this was a four-down situation, but ten yards proved to be too much even for two plays.
One first down run by Patterson iced the game, and the Falcons improved to an improbable 4-1 in the MAC. The Broncos put up an admirable fight but ultimately fall to 2-3 in the MAC and 3-6 overall.
Both teams have a tough road to bowl eligibility, but the Falcons only need one win from Kent State at home or on the road at Toledo, then Ohio. Western Michigan needs to sweep MAC West foes Northern Illinois, rival Central Michigan and Toledo.
Bowling Green chases the dream of the MAC East title next Tuesday against Kent State at home and the Broncos head back home to Kalamazoo to play a struggling Northern Illinois squad.