After the Jaguars took their first and only lead of the game, 28-27 with just 1:20 left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons' James Knapke and Roger Lewis connected on a game-deciding 78-yard touchdown on the very next play from scrimmage.
The Falcons then got an interception fromm Jude Adjei- Barimah to thwart any thought of a South Alabama comeback to seal Bowling Green's first bowl win since 2004 and break their three-game bowl losing streak.
The game, played in front of 20,256 mostly pro-Jaguar fans at the Cramton Bowl, actually ended early on Sunday morning and was controlled by Bowling Green from the start. The Falcons took the opening kick-off and went 65 yards on seven plays in just 2:21 to take the 7-0 lead. Knapke hit Lewis from 44 yards out for that score and #FalconFast was alive and well in Montgomery.
The Falcons pushed their lead to 14-0 on their next possession on a 1-yard dive by Travis Greene. That score was set-up by the deep ball again as Knapke hit Gehrig Dieter with a 53-yard strike that took the ball all the way down to the Jaguar 4-yard line.
South Alabama came right back to make the score 14-7 on a 44-yard touchdown dash by Kendall Houston. In the second quarter, Bowling Green's Tyler Tate would connect on field goals of 39 and 22 yards to give the Falcons a halftime lead of 20-7. Despite dominating on both sides of the ball in the first half, the Falcons let the Jaguars hang within striking distance after settling for those field goals after a couple of long, sustained drives.
South Alabama got on the board first in the second half with a Brandon Bridge 15-yard touchdown run to cut the Falcon lead to 20-14. However the Falcons answered right back immediately. The Jaguars kicked the ball short on the ensuing kick-off and Bowling Green's Austin Valdez took the ball at his own 23 yard line and raced 30 yards to setup the Falcon offense in Jaguar territory. Just five plays later, Greene cut through the Jaguar defense from 17 yards out to push the Falcon lead back to 13 points again, 27-14.
In the fourth quarter, Bridge found DeMarrion Buford-Hughes for an 18-yard scoring strike with 11:23 left to once again pull the Jaguars within six points, 27-21. However, the kick-off return team would set-up Bowling Green nicely once again. Reserve senior tight end Clay Rolf, playing in his last game, would catch another short Jaguar kick-off and then proceeded to run over and hurdle players while taking the ball to near mid-field.
The Falcons would drive deep into South Alabama territory before getting a defensive pass interference call that set them up first-and-goal at the Jaguars 1-yard line. Greene tried three times run it in but was stopped each time. Falcon head coach Dino Babers decided to go for the points and make it a two-score game by bringing reliable Tate on the field for what amounted to an extra point.
The Falcons took a timeout to make the decision to kick the field goal, but after the timeout Tate was not on the field with the field goal unit initially. He finally sprinted on the field late and seemed to gather himself just before the ball was snapped. The kick seemed to come off Tate's foot low and awkwardly and a Jaguar player got a hand on it. The kick was no good and South Alabama had new life down just six points with 8:25 left in the game.
The Falcons and Jaguars would trade punts before South Alabama would go 73 yards in eight plays for their only lead of the game. Terrence Timmons would run it in from three yards out to give them their short-lived lead, 28-27 and set-up Knapke and Lewis' heroics.
Knapke would be named the game's MVP, going 25-39 for 368 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. In fact, the Falcons would turn the ball over just once when Knapke fumbled after being hit from his blindside on a sack. Consequently, the Falcon defense forced four Jaguar turnovers in the game, a pair of fumbles and interceptions.
Lewis finished with 137 yards receiving on four catches, including his two touchdowns. Dieter would lead the Falcons with seven catches that went for 108 yards. Ronnie Moore would total 61 yards receiving on five receptions before being disqualified after a "targeting" unnecessary roughness call during a punt coverage play. Fred Coppet led the Falcons with 70 yards rushing and Greene would add another 41 yards, including his two scores.
Bridge would finish the game 20 of 37 for 279 yards with a touchdown and those two interceptions. Bridge played much better in the second half after completing just four passes the entire first half. Houston would lead the Jaguars in rushing with just 53 yards rushing. Danny Woodson would lead them in receiving with 122 yards on six catches.
The Falcons totaled 500 yards of total offense to the Jaguars' 415. The Falcons won the time-of-possession battle, holding the ball for 34:25 while the Jaguars had it for 25:35.
In addition to forcing those four turnovers, the Bowling Green defense also accounted for four sacks and six other tackles for a loss. Senior lineman Bryan Thomas would lead the Falcons with six tackles, including two sacks. Fellow seniors Charlie Walker and Gabe Martin would also have five tackles and another sack each. Besides Adjei- Barimah's game clinching interception, senior Ryland Ward picked off a Jaguar pass in the end zone, stopping a Jaguar drive in the first quarter.
After a rough end to the season which saw the Falcons lose their last three games, including a 51-17 thrashing by Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game, the Camellia Bowl win was just what Babers and the Falcons needed. They got to send the seniors out with a victory and now are headed into the offseason with some measure of momentum.
Eleven Falcon seniors missed commencement ceremonies back in Bowling Green on Saturday night. But, after this sweet Camellia Bowl victory, I don't think any of them minded at all!