Bowling Green picks off Minnesota twice in final minutes to secure its biggest win in years.
When Matt McDonald’s knee hit the ground in victory formation at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon, a metaphorical weight was lifted off a program that had been starved for a day like this. The last five seasons at Bowling Green were filled with nothing but dread and defeat and five-touchdown losses, but all of that was erased on a fateful day in Minneapolis.
One week after Bowling Green snapped its 10-game losing streak, the Falcons registered a program-defining win despite entering Minnesota as 31-point underdogs. First-year defensive coordinator Eric Lewis became the hero of the afternoon, calling an aggressive game to suffocate Minnesota’s offense in a gritty 14-10 victory.
Bowling Green’s defense showed up to stop Minnesota all afternoon. But the unit saved its best two plays for last. Gophers’ quarterback Tanner Morgan lowballed a throw on 1st down with 2:13 left and Devin Taylor reaped the benefits. After a quick Bowling Green three-and-out ensued, Morgan earned an opportunity at redemption, but the Falcons weren’t having any of it. Jordan Anderson snagged the game-winning interception on a short throw to the middle of the field, and Bowling Green sealed its first Big Ten victory since 2015.
The Falcons’ defense caught two passes from Morgan in the final three minutes. Minnesota receivers only caught five passes from their quarterback the entire game. Holding Minnesota to five completions on 13 attempts, the Gophers were forced to turn to the ground to generate any semblance of an offense. Although halfback Trey Potts churned out 141 yards on the Bowling Green defense, the Falcons were able to invade the backfield and halt the run when it counted.
One of those scenarios turned the tide of the game. In the middle of the second quarter, P.J. Fleck gambled on a 4th and 1 from his own 29 while leading 3-0. Bowling Green blew up the play before it developed and stuffed Potts five yards behind the line of scrimmage. The Falcons offense capitalized on the short field scenario, and quarterback Matt McDonald handed his team a 7-3 lead by taking a speed option into the end zone.
Minnesota appeared destined to regain control in the second half. The Gophers flew down the field in four minutes to notch their first touchdown of the afternoon. On the following drive, a 54-yard run by Potts set them up in Bowling Green territory, but Kent State transfer Matthew Trickett was unable to connect from 52 yards.
McDonald captained another Bowling Green drive in response to the missed field goal, and upon reaching the 3-yard line, he called his own number. The successful QB draw lifted the Falcons in front with 31 seconds left in the third quarter, and the scoreboard remained locked for the remainder of the day. McDonald’s second touchdown run launched a series of events which all fell in Bowling Green’s favor. To defend the lead, the Falcons forced a three-and-out by calling a corner blitz on third down, and Davon Anderson leveled Morgan in the backfield.
In Bowling Green’s first drive operating with a 14-10 lead, the team was assisted by a pair of crucial Minnesota penalties. After three unsuccessful plays from scrimmage, a roughing the punter call injected new life into the Falcon offense. Later on, a missed Falcons field goal was negated by a Gophers’ illegal formation — lining up in front of the long snapper. However, Bowling Green’s luck suddenly dissipated near the goal line. On 3rd and 7, McDonald fired a first down strike across his body to Tyrone Broden, but Broden fumbled eight yards away from attaining a two-score lead.
One other missed opportunity for Bowling Green transpired one play before Morgan’s first interception. With under three minutes left, the Gophers muffed a punt return and Bowling Green failed to secure the ball after several special teamers pounced on the pigskin. However, those two fourth quarter errors were all for naught, as the Falcons’ defense never wavered — allowing the team to exit Minneapolis with a statement victory.
Losing against MAC programs is a rarity for Gophers’ head coach P.J. Fleck. The former Western Michigan front man won 13 consecutive games against MAC opponents prior to Saturday’s massive upset — the biggest upset of the 2021 season between FBS teams.
Bowling Green’s offense didn’t have its brightest day, only converting 2/14 attempts on 3rd down. The Falcons once again failed to generate the rushing attack with 22 collective yards on the ground, but an offense built on a foundation of short, crisp passes did the trick. Tight end Christian Sims was a standout player Saturday with six receptions for 51 yards. He strong-armed several contested catches and kept the Falcons’ offense moving when the run game stalled.
But Eric Lewis’ defense brought as much firepower to the game as possible, and the combative unit recorded four sacks in an all-out clinic. Minnesota only traversed the length of the field on its opening drive in the second half. The Falcons’ other three points occurred due to favorable field position after a first quarter McDonald interception. On all other drives, Bowling Green left the Gophers empty-handed and deprived the Big Ten foe of what was perceived to be an easy victory.
Bowling Green enters MAC play at .500, with the knowledge that it can compete with any team in the conference. After ranking second-to-last in points allowed per game and last in rushing defense in 2020, the improvements across the board can not be stressed enough. With the defense sustaining its poise from kickoff to final whistle, Bowling Green facilitated a statement victory for a program that waited six years for a sign of life.