Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2017

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Bowling Green nips UNR on late score

The Falcons win the inaugural Las Vegas Bowl 35-34 on a touchdown pass with 22 seconds left.

Bowling Green allowed UNR to come back, then staged its own comeback Friday to win the inaugural Las Vegas Bowl.

The Falcons beat the Wolf Pack 35-34 after blowing a 25-point halftime led. In fact, UNR was up 34-28 with 1:48 remaining. UNR’s Steve Lester needed to get off a punt to preserve the lead.

Instead, he fumbled the snap, giving Bowling Green the ball at the UNR 15-yard line. Erik White threw a roll-out, 3-yard touchdown pass to Dave Hankins with 22 seconds left, and Brian Leaver’s extra point gave the Falcons the trophy.

That ended a game that broke down into three parts: Bowling Green taking a 28-3 lead, backup quarterback Chris Vargas leading UNR to 31 straight points, and the Falcons rebounding with a touchdown for the victory.

“We were embarrassed in the first half. They were pretty much doing what they wanted to do when they wanted,” UNR coach Chris Ault said. “We finally showed everyone in the second half what Wolf Pack football is all about. We went to a no-huddle offense and Chris (Vargas) did a super job.”

That wasn’t enough.

“You can’t give Erik White the ball twice inside the 20 and not expect them to score,” Ault said. “They’re a championship football team.”

With a national audience watching the season’s first bowl game on ESPN, Bowling Green wanted to prove it was deserving of a Top 25 ranking. And behind the arm of White and big plays by cornerback Ken Burress, the Falcons dominated the first half.

White threw for 141 yards in the half, tossing a touchdown pass and even catching one from LeRoy Smith. White finished with 245 yards passing. Zeb Jackson was the Falcons’ other offensive leader with 113 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

The Falcons drove 80 yards on their first drive and scored on Smith’s 10-yard reception from White. UNR starting quarterback Fred Gatlin responded with a 28-yard keeper that set up Steve Terelak’s 30-yard field goal.

The Falcons dominated the rest of the half. Jackson’s 4-yard run with 2:28 left in the first quarter upped Bowling Green’s lead to 14-3. The Falcons made it 21-3 with a fourth-day trick play, Smith taking the handoff from White and throwing back to the quarterback for an 8-yard touchdown.

And after Ken Burress blocked Lester’s punt at the UNR 21, Jackson scored on a 17-yard run. The extra point made it 28-3.

UNR had the ball at the Bowling Green 1-yard line late in the half, Wolf Pack attempts at a first-half touchdown were stopped four times by the Falcon defense.

In he second half, Vargas led the charge that earned him the game most valuable player award, and almost gave UNR the game.

The comeback started with a middle screen to Mike Senior for 26 yards. Vargas hit Senior with a 5-yard touchdown pass on the next play.

“They out-executed our defense in the second half,” Bolwing Green coach Gary Blackney said. “Vargas did a tremendous job. They did an excellent job running two plays against us that we couldn’t stop. All they did was run a middle screen at us.”

UNR cornerback Brock Marion partially blocked Rob Donahue’s punt and the Wolf Pack took over at the Bowling Green 37. Another middle screen, this one to Bryan Reeves for 17 yards, put UNR in position for Dedric Holmes’ 5-yard touchdown run with 5:32 left in the third quarter.

Then the UNR defense, which had allowed 267 yards of total offense in the first quarter, came alive. Andre Howard sacked White back at the Falcon 10 to force Bowling Green to attempt a punt. A poor snap forced Donahue to run; he was well short of the first down, and Vargas’ 12-yard pass to Reeves and his 3-yard scoring toss to Tom Matter cut Bowling Green’s lead to 28-24.

Bowling Green appeared to be ready to strike back when White connected with Mark Szlachic on a 33-yard pass to the UNR 22. However, the play was called back because of a penalty and the Falcons eventually had to punt.

Vargas then directed a 78-yard drive that was capped off by Reeves’ 3-yard run to give the Wolf Pack a 31-28 lead. The Wolf Pack followed that up with an 86-yard drive, but couldn’t punch it in from the Falcon 3. The Wolf Pack settled for a 19-yard field goal from Steve Terelak to make it 34-28.

“I was impressed by their spirit. There was no way they were going to quit and they competed against us,” Blackney said.

But Bowling Green was able to put in the final score for the victory. The Falcons finished their year with a 10-2 record. UNR finished 7-5 in its first Division I-A season and its first in the Big West Conference.

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