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September 21, 2023

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BG defense struggles against UMass, but comes up with game-winning fumble late

The Bowling Green defense has been the biggest concern for the Falcons so far this football season and they struggled once again this weekend.

They allowed 638 total yards, 589 of those yards coming from University of Massachusetts quarterback Blake Frohnapfel.

Yet, throughout all of the in-game struggles, the game was won by the defense.

Redshirt freshman James Sanford forced a fumble on UMass’ last possession to solidify the Falcons 47-42 win Saturday afternoon.

“I had no problem kicking the ball to our defense,” head coach Dino Babers said. “Our defense won the game for us; they went up there with two minutes left against a good football team … and they found a way to win the game for us.”

The offense had no problem moving the ball all game long, but on their last two drives they went three and out failed to take much time off of the clock.

The Minutemen took over trailing 47-42 and on their own 14-yard line with 2:19 left in the game. After an 18-yard rush from J.T. Blyden the Minutemen found themselves at their own 32.

Frohnapfel completed a pass to Blyden, then Sanford came up and forced the fumble that was then recovered by BG freshman Clint Stephens.

With 1:46 left on the clock and UMass out of timeouts the Falcons took three kneels and walked away with the win.

“I just broke on it. I held him up and somehow the ball just came up I’m not sure how,” Sanford said. “We’ve been working on it [forcing turnovers] a lot in practice. The numbers haven’t been great against us, but we’ve been making plays to save us from that. It’s just a great relief to get that done.”

In fact, this wasn’t the first time the Falcon defense has forced an important turnover late in a game to help the Falcons earn a win. In their third game of the season, down 35-32, the Falcon defense forced a fumble against Indiana University that eventually led to their 45-42 win.

Despite their struggles number-wise, they have stayed true to what they wanted to do in the beginning, and that is forcing turnovers. With their four turnovers on Saturday, that makes 11 turnovers they have forced in the last four games.

“I think the turnovers were big,” Babers said. “I’m not happy with the numbers; I am happy with the turnovers. We have to get better on that side of the ball; there is no doubt about it. But they are our guys; we love them and we are in first place in the MAC [Mid-American Conference].”

Offensively the Falcons showed their balance with 668 yards of total offense, 443 coming through the air and 225 coming on the ground.

“I really want to be balanced. I really want our men to understand the physicality of this football game,” Babers said. “I don’t want to throw the ball 100 times and run it two times. I can do that but I don’t want to. I don’t think it’s fair to the young men.”

Three different receivers accumulated more than 100 yards receiving: Ryan Burbrink, 132, Roger Lewis, 148 and Ronnie Moore, 109 yards. James Knapke finished the day with 443 yards passing and three touchdowns but that stat sheet included three interceptions as well.

“We really don’t target one guy,” Babers said. “We run plays, we see what the defense is giving us and we take advantage of those situations. I thought that James did a really, really nice job. Obviously we had a couple of interceptions but they have some good DB’s.”

The Falcons were finally able to get the elusive road win they have been seeking this season, now they are 1-0 in the MAC before their homecoming game on Saturday.

“We are a good team, we just won on the road. You aren’t allowed to call yourself a good team until you win on the road,” Babers said. “We proved that we could go and take a game from a team that was desperate for a win.”

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