Bowling Green went into Saturday’s football game against Miami with the Mid-American Conference’s worst-ranked defense, but the Falcons also led the country with 10 fumble recoveries.
The RedHawks took advantage of the defense, piling up a season-high 612 yards of total offense, but a botched shotgun snap at Bowling Green’s 1-yard line — caused when the ball grazed the left arm of defensive tackle Nate Trawick, who was in the backfield as a blocker, as he was coming out of his stance — in the last two minutes was picked up by linebacker Brandon Harris, who returned it 93 yards to clinch a 37-29 upset at Yager Stadium.
“That’s an incredibly difficult loss,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “We had to make one more play. I’ve never seen a play like that. I’ve seen things in the last three weeks that I haven’t seen in 25 years of coaching.”
Fourth-year junior quarterback Gus Ragland threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third before leaving with an undisclosed injury late in the third quarter, but Bowling Green quarterback James Morgan threw three touchdown passes as the Falcons (1-5, 1-1 MAC East Division) picked up their first win.
Billy Bahl was 8-of-17 for 119 yards in relief of Ragland.
“Gus is our quarterback,” said wide receiver Jared Murphy, who caught five passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. “We love him and trust him, but we trust Billy, too.”
Ragland will get an MRI for a lower body injury and might be out for a while, and Bahl might have injured his non-throwing arm diving to try and corral the loose football, Martin said. Ragland missed the first six games of 2016 after a knee injury in spring practice required surgery, but the RedHawks won the last six games of the regular season after he took over as the starting quarterback.
The RedHawks (2-4, 1-1 MAC East), clad in throwback-type uniforms featuring red jerseys and white pants and helmets, piled up more than 500 yards of total offense for the first time since gaining 557 against Massachusetts in 2014, but the defense allowed a season-high 505 yards, two more than gained by then-No. 22 Notre Dame a week earlier.
The game featured six lead changes.
“It was an offensive day,” Martin said. “Both offenses moved the ball at will. It was hard to get stops. We didn’t control the run game like we needed to.”
“The offense moved the ball well,” Murphy said. “It comes down to the little things that Coach Martin keeps preaching about.”
Miami went 66 yards in eight plays on its opening drive before calling a timeout on second-and-five at Bowling Green’s 9. When play resumed, Ragland was picked off in the end zone by cornerback Clint Stephens. The interception was Ragland’s first in 174 MAC throws.
The Falcons converted the turnover with a 37-yard field goal, but Miami came right back with a six-play, 75-yard drive that Ragland capped by finding a wide-open Gardner on a 32-yard flag pattern for a TD. The RedHawks converted a third-and-12 with Ragland’s 19-yard pass to Kenny Young and got into Falcons’ territory when wide receiver James Gardner reached up to grab Ragland’s high pass over the middle for a 24-yard gain.
Ragland capped Miami’s next possession by going untouched for 11 yards to finish a 10-play, 87-yard drive that consumed five minutes, 31 seconds and left the RedHawks leading 13-3 with 13:44 left in the first half.
One minute and 40 seconds later, the RedHawks defense allowed speedy Josh Cleveland to escape untouched up the middle for a 32-yard touchdown run, helping the Falcons cut Miami’s lead to 13-10. Senior cornerback Heath Harding stopped Bowling Green’s next possession with his first interception of the season at Miami’s 5, and the RedHawks embarked on a drive that stalled at the Bowling Green 4, leading to Sam Sloman’s 22-yard field goal and a 16-10 lead.
The drive featured one play on which Bowling Green was flagged for three penalties, though one for targeting later was rescinded after video review. The Falcons were called for four penalties on the possession, which Ragland extended with a 22-yard run on fourth-and-six from the Bowling Green 35.
The Falcons regained the lead on Morgan’s two-yard pass to Matt Wilcox Jr. with 1:22 left in the half, enough time for Miami to go 45 yards in seven plays, setting up Sloman’s 39-yard field goal and a 19-17 RedHawks lead with three seconds left before halftime.
Miami’s total offense season high going into the game was 429 yards at Marshall in the opener. The RedHawks had 337 by halftime Saturday.
Morgan and wide receiver Teo Redding teamed up for a 75-yard touchdown pass and a 24-19 lead on the first play of the second half, but Miami went right down the field and regained the lead on Ragland’s second touchdown pass, a 36-yarder to Murphy, who shook off one tackler before going in for his first touchdown of the season.
Sloman added a season-high 45-yard field goal and 29-24 lead, but Morgan and Redding connected for a 28-yard scoring pass, giving Bowling Green a 30-29 lead after Morgan fumbled the two-point conversion snap with 12:15 left in the game.