For some time, the Bowling Green Falcons have been looking forward to the Indiana Hoosiers coming to Doyt Perry Stadium, especially after last year when the Hoosiers dominated the Falcons in Bloomington. But after a rough start to the season that included a horrible loss in the opener, and then the loss of their starting quarterback for the year, the Falcons were just hoping to compete against the Hoosiers.
Well compete they did! The Falcon offense went toe-to-toe with the Hoosiers in the second half and scored the winning touchdown with just nine seconds left in the game when quarterback James Knapke hit receiver Roger Lewis on a fade route in the corner of the end zone for the game winner. The Falcons out-slugged the Hoosiers by a final score of 45-42.
Knapke, who was the back up until just 14 days ago, set school records for passing completions and attempts in the game. His stat line ended up 46 of 73 for 395 yards and three touchdowns.
"Our game plan was to throw the ball around," Knapke said after the game. "But, I didn't think we would throw that many times."
Well the Falcons needed every one of them to claim their first home victory against a Big Ten team.
Before the final drive by BG, the Hoosiers took the lead on a nine-play, 67-yard drive of their own that ended with quarterback Nate Sudfeld leaping over the pile from the one-yard line. The extra point gave the Hoosiers the lead 42-39 with just 2:04 on the clock.
The Falcons appeared to be playing for a tying field goal when the resulting kickoff was only returned out to the 12-yard line by Ronnie Moore. The Falcons then promptly marched 88 yards in 12 plays for the win. The final drive featured two 15-yard pass interference penalties against the Hoosiers that helped set up Knapke and Lewis' heroics.
The second half was a real shoot out as both defenses had trouble slowing the other team down. Indiana running back Tevin Coleman was held in check in the first half by the Falcons for only 33 yards. However, Coleman exploded in the second half and finished with 194 yards and three touchdowns.
The first half was a confidence builder for the Falcons, especially the defense. The Falcon defense held on fourth down twice and forced three punts from the Hoosiers on seven drives in the opening half.
The Falcons got on the board first taking the opening kickoff 49 yards in 14 plays and cashed in with a Tyler Tate 28-yard field goal to make it 3-0. The Hoosiers got on the board late in the first quarter after their defense forced a turnover. BG's Fred Coppet put the ball on the ground on his first carry and the Hoosier recovery set them up at the BG 33. Three plays later, quarterback Nate Sudfeld pushed over for the touchdown to make the score 7-3 Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers found the end zone again in the second quarter on a 22-yard pass from Sudfeld to J-Shun Harris II that pushed their lead to 14-3. The Falcon offense would move the ball throughout the first half but stall when they got to the red zone. Bowling Green junior kicker Tyler Tate would connect on second quarter field goals from 38, 45 and 47 yards to make the score 14-12 Indiana at the half.
Falcon head coach Dino Babers said that's exactly where wanted the game at halftime.
"We wanted to be close at halftime," said Babers. "Then, we wanted them to really feel us in the fourth quarter and see if they would squeeze up a bit. I told our guys this week that this would be an old fashion fight much like Joe Frazier vs Muhammad Ali. Guys will throw bombs and guys will be staggering on their feet."
And he was right! The two teams literally traded punches in the second half. Coleman posted his three touchdowns and the Falcons countered with touchdowns on the ground from Travis Green and Coppet, as well as a 31-yard Knapke strike to Ryan Burbrink.
The big target for the Falcons in this game was Lewis. He ended up with 16 catches for 149 yards and the all important final touchdown. It was obvious that the Falcons wanted to exploit the matchup between Lewis and the Hoosier secondary. But Lewis was hardly the only Falcon target as Knapke completed passes to nine different receivers in the game.
Greene had another big day on the ground gaining 124 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. The running game provided just enough of a threat to open the passing game for the Falcons. Bowling Green rolled up 39 first downs and 571 yards of total offense against Indiana.
Tate kept the Falcons close in the first half with his leg.
"Tate was huge for us," said Babers. "He had to be perfect today for us to win and he was."
After the Falcons had taken the lead with nine seconds left, Tate had his extra point attempt blocked. It was scooped up by a Hoosier defender and Tate made a game saving tackle that prevented the Falcons from experiencing the same fate Alabama had against Auburn in last year's Iron Bowl.
"That was the greatest thing he did the entire game," said Babers. "He held on until the rest of the family could get there to help. That to me was the biggest play in the game."
The Falcon defense again gave up some huge numbers: 30 first downs, 582 yards of offense and 42 points. But they did just enough to give the offense a chance to win it. One of the biggest plays for the Bowling Green defense came in the fourth quarter with Indiana driving for a potential score that would have put them up two touchdowns. Coleman got stripped of the ball by BG's Charlie Walker and Ryland Ward caught the ball in the air for the recovery at the 12 yard line. The Falcons would take the ball and drive the length of the field for yet another score to take the lead.
So the Falcons continued a trend of Mid-American Conference teams upsetting Big Ten foes. Last week Central Michigan beat Purdue and Northern Illinois beat Northwestern. However, it was another MAC/Big Ten game last week that Babers used to motivate his players.
"At halftime we talked about the Iowa/Ball State game," said Babers. "We said we didn't want to miss out on an opportunity like Ball State unfortunately did. We wanted to finish and we did."
The Falcons will get their chance against the Big Ten again next week as they travel to Madison to face the Wisconsin Badgers.