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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Falcons lose Battle of I-75, 32-31

Falcon cornerback Davon Ferguson applies pressure to Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn.

The 88th edition of the Battle of I-75 rivalry proved a story of two halves. In the end, though, Toledo left Doyt L. Perry Stadium with a heart-pounding 32-31 victory.

Bowling Green dominated the first half but in a game filled with big plays, the Rockets found a way to make one when it counted most.

“I want to say hats off to Toledo, they made one more play than we did tonight. I think our kids played their tails off and we coached well,” Scot Loeffler said. “The fact of the matter is that we just didn’t make one or two plays that we needed to.”

Toledo opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive that took less than two minutes and ended with a 23-yard run by quarterback Dequan Finn but Bowling Green responded on the second play of the ensuring drive when Falcon quarterback Connor Bazelak found a wide open Harold Fannin Jr. for a 56-yard scoring strike to tie the game.

It looked to be a good old-fashioned shootout at the Doyt.

The next Toledo series sputtered after a third-down sack by linebacker  Cashius Howell and the Falcons and Rockets ended up exchanging punts.

But after getting the ball back at their own 45, the Falcons took advantage of the short field and capped the drive with quarterback Camden Orth tossing a 3-yard jump pass to Fannin for his second to put the Falcons in front. The Rockets answered with a field goal but the Falcons engineered an 8-minute drive

Toledo then moved the ball, but the drive ended in a field goal which made it a 14-10 ball game at the start of the second quarter.

The Falcons bounced back by grinding out an 8-minute drive largely on the shoulders of running back  Ta’ron Keith that ended on Orth’s 5-yard keeper to increase the lead to 21-10.

Toledo threatened again, moving into Falcon territory but with less than five minutes to play, the defense thwarted the Rockets on fourth down. A few pass completions and penalties found Bowling Green facing a fourth and 4 and a scrambling Bazelak found Fannin for a conversion and three players later, Keith burst into the end zone to end the first half scoring.

The Falcons went to the locker room with a 28-10 lead and plenty of confidence. But that momentum proved to be short-lived.

“It was a team effort. It shows how explosive and how dominant we can be. You saw it against Georgia Tech, we can beat anyone in the country,” Bazelak said. “Our guys know that, and our team knows that. We did it all fall camp back in August, we’ve done it in a couple games this year. It stinks that we couldn’t put it together for four quarters.”

Bowling Green’s opening drive of the second half sputtered. Just 25 seconds after receiving the ensuing punt, Finn found tight end Junior Vandeross III for a 22-yard touchdown.

Up 28-17, Bowling Green seemed to recapture positive momentum driving deep into Rocket territory but on a crucial 3rd and 6, Orth fumbled fighting for extra yards. Toledo recovered and the third quarter quartered ended with more back and forth.

Toledo reclaimed the momentum when the final quarter began, putting together a 6-play, 89-yard drive ending with Peny Boone’s 1-yard touchdown plunge. A two-point conversion closed the gap to just three points.

As has been the case much of the year, Bowling Green defense came up with a big play when it was needed most as cornerback Jordan Oladokun picked off a Finn pass in Rocket territory. The offense struggled to move the ball but salvaged the drive with a 40-yard Alan Anaya field goal that increased the lead to 31-25 with half a quarter left to play.

Howell then came up big again on a Toledo third down, resulting in his second sack of the game and giving Bowling Green the ball back with 5:42 remaining.

A BG three-and-out took just a minute and six seconds off the clock, giving Toledo the ball in their own territory with just under five minutes to play. The Rockets gained just 11 yards in six plays, setting up a fourth and 2 with less than two minutes remaining. But on a night of big plays, Finn and Peny came up with the knockout punch, as Finn took a short pass and turned it into a 59-yard score with 1:45 left to play.

“We knew we had to go down there and score and just bleeding out the clock wasn’t our thought process whatsoever,” Loeffler said. “Offensively, we knew it was going to be a shootout, so we tried to get one more score at the end.”

The Falcons hopes were extinguished with three incompletions and a sack, allowing Toledo to walk away with the 32-31 win. Toledo head coach Jason Candle  enjoyed the celebration that followed.

“It was incredible, our student section rushed the field on an away game. That tells you everything you need to know about this game, and I’m sure the emotion on the other side was the same in our stadium last year,” Candle said. “Great game for the Mid-American Conference. And then it was on national TV tonight, so it was a really great display, and a really good game to watch. And it was one that we were happy to come away with a win.”

For the players, the victory was an opportunity to get the bad taste out their mouths from last year’s contest, which saw the Falcons win in dramatic fashion thanks to a last-second touchdown by Keith.

“Yeah, I mean, it means a lot to me,” Toledo linebacker Dallas Gant said. “Obviously, we lost last year and it’s a big thing to come back and get this trophy back. It’s a good way to send our seniors out on the right note.”

The Falcons will end their regular season on November 21 as they travel to Kalamazoo, Michigan to face the Western Michigan Broncos.

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