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Falcons face Toledo tonight

The culmination of another successful season comes to a close tonight for the Falcon football team, as long as they can beat rival Toledo.

BG is one of the hottest teams in the nation, reeling off seven consecutive victories in what has appeared to be ease. All the gaudy numbers that the offense has put up and big plays the defense has made will lose much of their steam if the Rockets are victorious.

That is what a great rivalry is. Your entire season and bowl hopes come down to the final regular season game against the school whose colors you can hardly bear to see.

One game, one monstrous rivalry.

“It’s been a rivalry now for a while and the fact that the school’s are only 20 miles apart makes it all that more intriguing,” said BG head coach Gregg Brandon. “It’s a great rivalry because no one team dominates the series and both teams have just as good a chance to win as the other.”

For the Falcons, playing at the Glass Bowl this year makes the game more challenging since the home team has won the last six contests.

However, BG has had a knack for jumping all over their opponents early in games and giving them little, if any, chance to come back. They have outscored their opponents 275-92 in the first half of games.

Much of this credit is due to having a top-tier offense that consistently is on the same page as they rank fourth in the nation in total offense with 496.4 yards per game and scoring at 43.9. Quarterback Omar Jacobs has far exceeded expectations this year, leading the nation with 32 touchdown pass and 21.6 points responsible for per game.

The offensive line has played like a stone wall as a unit since game one at Oklahoma, which has given Jacobs ample time to make his reads and prevent him from forcing passes.

“Our offensive line has been outstanding all year. Seven sacks, only two of those have been on the line. The others were coverage sacks or when Omar got caught. That to me is incredible,” Brandon said.

The receiving core has provided for big play after big play and seems to be running free for much of the game.

Cole Magner leads the team in receptions (56) and Charles Sharon leads in receiving yards (860) and touchdowns (12). The play of Steve Sanders, who averages a team-high 18.9 yards per catch, has added more fire to the Falcons weaponry.

“Steve’s really come on,” Brandon said. “He’s emerged as a big time guy. It’s nice that Steve has elevated his game so that he can be a guy in crunch time now.”

Brandon has challenged the offense to outplay Toledo’s offense, much like he challenged the defense to outplay Marshall’s in their last game. Marshall came to town with the most talked about defense in the Mid-American Conference and left battered and bruised after allowing 56 points.

The task is difficult again facing a Toledo offense that averages 33.8 points per game.

The Rockets put up offensive numbers that are similar to BG’s, but their system is different. Toledo likes to play smashmouth football, then set defenses up by utilizing the play-action pass to get the ball in their receivers hands.

“They are a two dimensional team, they can run it and pass it,” said middle linebacker Jovon Burkes.

When you have a classic rivalry such as BG-UT, certain positions even have a bit of the rivalry flair. Jacobs rival at quarterback is Bruce Gradkowski, who is second to Jacobs in several MAC statistical categories. On the year, Gradkowski has passed for 2,886 yards, 20 touchdowns and has a pass efficiency rating of 163.71.

He is also effective scrambling out of the pocket, as he has run for seven touchdowns.

“What we have to do as a defense, starting with the defensive ends, is contain him,” Burkes said. “He has great speed on turf.”

Gradkowski likes to spread the ball around. Receivers Kenny Higgins and Steve Odom have combined for 1,144 yards receiving and eight touchdowns, but his main weapon is senior wide receiver Lance Moore. Moore has 70 catches on the year for 870 yards and nine scores.

“These past few years, they have great receivers,” said senior safety Keon Newson. “They got guys making a lot of plays. We’ve got to be ready to step up to the level of their receivers and jump up in there and make plays with them.”

“(Moore’s) probably one of the best receivers in the conference,” Brandon said.

The Rockets like to run out of a two-tight end formation. This is where they are able to get their tight ends involved and let them make big plays to throw off defenses. Chris Holmes has caught 27 passes for 254 yards on the season.

Toledo’s defense struggled mightily in the early part of the season, but has rebounded nicely to keep them in games. They were able to shut down Northern Illinois’ running attack and allow their own offense to carry them to victory.

“(Toledo coach Tom Amstutz) has done a good job keeping that defense together,” Brandon said. “You can see them getting better week to week on film, and they’re playing together.”

Brandon put the team’s recipe for victory into simple terms.

“We need to control the football and score points like we normally do and keep their offense on the sideline,” he said.

Kickoff is at 7 pm and the game will air on ESPN2.

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