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February 22, 2024

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BG’s 31 first half points, stifling defense too much for Western Michigan to overcome

Drake Harlett

BGSU Football closed out the regular season on a high note, defeating the Western Michigan Broncos 34-10.  

“Just like I said last week, playing good football right now. We’re a point away from being undefeated in November, which is what we wanted to do, but came up a point short. Super proud of our guys for putting last week to bed and coming out and playing really good ball,” Head Coach Scot Loeffler said postgame Tuesday. “Defensively, special teams, offense I thought we played complementary football. We need to get healthy; we need to take some time off, we need to go recruiting, and we need to get ready for this bowl game and find a way to get our eighth win. Keep taking steps, keep learning, and keep moving the needle of the program.”  

The victory is Bowling Green’s seventh of the season, the first time the team will finish with a winning record since the 2015 season.  

“We did it with a really, really tough beginning. Go back to the OU game, and the University of Michigan beat the hell out of us, and we couldn’t even practice until the very end of the week,” Loeffler said. “We dealt with some adversity at the beginning, got better as the year went, which is a good sign. We’ve got great coaches, we’ve got great kids, we need to keep everyone here. Whenever we had the Seniors stand up, there was five. We’ve just got to keep everyone here, keep our program together, and find a way to keep getting better. This bowl game is going to be a real important deal for us. We didn’t finish last year, and we want to finish.” 

Bowling Green started the night with the football, driving all the way down, getting into the red zone thanks to a couple of huge plays by Harold Fannin Jr., but penalties stalled out the drive, forcing the Falcons to kick to get on the board first with a 35-yard Alan Anaya field goal.  

Darius Lorfils got in on the turnover fun the BG defense has had, securing his first pick of the season off of Hayden Wolff, and Bowling Green scored immediately on a 35-yard connection from Connor Bazelak to Jaylon Tillman, his first reception of the season and his first touchdown as a Falcon. After Anaya’s extra point, Bowling Green led 10-0.  

“(Jaylon) Tillman, he’s been a blocking machine. He hasn’t had one touch, one target…we got quarters, he slipped it just like we coached him to do,” Loeffler said. “He did a hell of a job, it was awesome to watch our team respond, because they knew how unselfish he’s been all year. That was really cool. Really, really cool. Tillman’s going to be a good player.” 

The excitement slowed – three straight punts between both teams and a Camden Orth interception gave WMU the ball at their own 21-yard line. The Broncos moved the ball quickly with explosive play after explosive play, getting close to the midfield stripe before Wolff was picked off for the second time, this time it was Jordan Oladokun who jumped the route and returned his fourth interception of the season 53 yards for six.  

“Jordan’s really improved in his game, and I think with a year of really hitting the weight room hard, a year of learning how to be a pro,” Loeffler said. “He’s a great kid. I think Jordan, if he takes the next steps in the weight room, the next steps in being a pro, he can be a damn good player. He is already a damn good player; I just want him to take that next step.” 

Anaya’s second PAT of the night connected, and BG led 17-0.  

Western’s Zahir Abdus-Salaam got the rock four straight times, picking up a first down on his very first carry, but held to only chunks on his next three. Jordan Jackson, Dierre Kelly, and Jordan Porter combined for back-to-back-to-back losses, Jackson getting Anthony Sambucci on a trick play for a loss of nine, and Kelly and Porter sacking Wolff on back-to-back plays for four and five yards, respectively. 

On fourth down, Carson Voss netted only a 15-yard punt to give the Falcons the ball at the Broncos’ 43-yard line. 

Ta’ron Keith and Bazelak joined in too, breaking off back-to-back big runs, Keith for 11 and Bazelak for 17, setting BG up in the red zone. A pass to Fannin got BG inside the five, and Odieu Hiliare finished the drive off with a 3-yard diving touchdown grab to put Bowling Green up 24-0, his third score of the season and his first since the Falcons’ September 9 contest vs Eastern Illinois. 

“Feels great. Like I said, wins don’t come easy, touchdowns don’t come easy,” Hiliare said. “Just grateful. Blessed to be able to go out there and make that type of play. Just thankful that Coach gave me the opportunity, quarterback made the throw, and I went out there to make a play.”  

After another three-and-out from the Broncos, Bazelak found Hiliare for a big hitter, connecting for 23 yards. Keith got swallowed up in the backfield, and the offense didn’t recover until fourth down, converting a fourth-and-one play behind the legs of Keith.

Fannin and Keith combined for two straight 10-yard gains, with Keith bouncing off of defenders like he was made of rubber. Keith finished off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to put the Falcons up 31-0 with just under a minute to play in the first half.  

Wolff found Leroy Thomas for a big play on Western’s ensuing drive with under 30 seconds to play in half number one, but then got sacked again by Porter for a loss of seven – Porter’s second sack of the night. A reception from Kenneth Womack got Western into BG territory for the first time of the night with four seconds to go in the second quarter.

Wolff found Jehlani Galloway at the BG 30-yard line, putting Western in field goal range. Palmer Domschke put his all into the 48-yard kick, erasing the goose egg from Western Michigan’s side of the scoreboard to send both teams to halftime.  

Bowling Green led 31-3 at the break, and Western Michigan got the ball to start half number two.  

Western Michigan’s first drive started out promising, but after two straight incompletions, Patrick Day came in hot, sacking Wolff for a nine-yard loss and forcing the Broncos to punt. Jhaylin Embry almost broke free on the punt return, but was tripped up well into Bronco territory, setting BG’s offense back up in a great spot.  

On third down, Fannin used all of his athleticism to turn a 3-yard gain into a 10-yard gain. After getting to the 10, a reverse from Hiliare went nowhere, Keith picked up three, and BG was forced to settle for another field goal. Anaya connected for his second field goal of the night, and Bowling Green led by 31 yet again.  

“He’s almost in the same deal as Jordan. We need a really, really good offseason with him in the weight room, and a really, really good way of teaching him how to study the game. How to take his game to the next level,” Loeffler said. “He’s really good, but to get to where you want to go and to get to that next stage of your career, all those little things are imperative.” 

A long drive from Western fell apart at the BG 25-yard line after a turnover on downs gave the Falcons the ball back deep in their territory. The Bazelak to Fannin connection was back in full force, the first play of the drive going to Fannin for 12 yards. Hiliare’s great night continued with two grabs on the drive, and Jaison Patterson had multiple carries along the way.

The drive stalled inside the 20, and Anaya missed his first field goal of the night. The score remained 34-3 and Western Michigan took over at their own 30.  

WMU’s Jalen Buckley broke off a 10-yard run, then followed it up with two straight five-yard carries. Buckley came out, CJ Hester came in, and immediately ripped off a big gain to get into Bowling Green territory. Western completely moved away from the pass, keeping the ball on the ground for almost the entire drive.

Buckley scored WMU’s first touchdown of the game with under five minutes to play on a 16-yard rush that also set him over the 1,000-yard mark on the season. After the extra point, WMU trailed 34-10. 

Bowling Green’s final drive was the finisher. With four minutes remaining, Bowling Green drained most of it, utilizing the legs of Jamal Johnson and Cam Orth, but were forced to punt it back to the Broncos with under a minute left.  

Western Michigan was able to run one play before the clock hit zero and the game was over. 

Bazelak finished the game 18-for-26 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns. 

Buckley ran 18 times for 85 yards and Western’s only touchdown of the night, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark.  

The defense forced two turnovers and sacked Wolff five times, continuing their dominant 2023 campaign. 

“It’s the best feeling in the world for that time. For me, personally, I think a lot of people would say it, this is the most fun year I’ve had playing defense,” Oladokun said. “This is the closest we’ve been since I’ve been here. We all just work for each other, and all give each other a chance to make plays. We’re hoping to continue on this next year and hopefully get to the goal.”  

Western Michigan’s season comes to a close with the loss, finishing with a 4-8 (3-5 MAC) record in Head Coach Lance Taylor’s first season at the helm of the Broncos.  

After a 2-4 start, Bowling Green finishes the regular season 7-5 (5-3 MAC), and now wait to find out who their next opponent is for their bowl game. 

For more stories related to BGSU Athletics, follow Falcon Media Sports Network on X (@bg_fmsn).

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