Late TD lifts Bowling Green past South Alabama
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) James Knapke and Roger Lewis kicked Bowling Green's quick-strike offense up to its highest gear at just the right time.
Lewis caught a 78-yard touchdown pass from Knapke with 1:04 remaining to lift Bowling Green to a 33-28 victory over South Alabama on Saturday night in the inaugural Camellia Bowl.
''Obviously we wanted to be aggressive with that play call, and Roger was 1-on-1,'' Knapke said. ''My job was to just give him the ball and he made the play after that.''
The Falcons (8-6) responded one play after the Jaguars (6-7) took their first lead. Lewis, Bowling Green's freshman star, got well behind safety Roman Buchanan downfield, and Buchanan came up clutching his right hamstring.
The Jaguars, playing in their first bowl game after starting the program in 2009, moved 73 yards in just under 3 minutes to momentarily move ahead. Brandon Bridge hit Danny Woodson Jr. for a 44-yard strike. Terrance Timmons had a 3-yard touchdown run after converting two third-down plays with runs.
''We are a brand-new program and they've probably got a few more players than we do,'' South Alabama coach Joey Jones said. ''There we go, a minute and 10 seconds left and we're up against a program that's had football for probably 100 years. There are some positives to this but I don't like losing.''
Bowling Green couldn't convert the 2-point try but Jude Adjei-Barima picked off Bridge's pass on South Alabama's next play. The Jaguars forced a punt with 31 seconds left, but were called for roughing the kicker to allow Bowling Green to run out the clock.
Knapke, who earned the game's MVP honors, was 25 for 39 passing for 368 yards and two long touchdowns to Lewis, who capped the first drive with a 44-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-2 play. He became the first Bowling Green freshman to reach 1,000 yards receiving and finished with four catches for 137 yards.
Gehrig Dieter had 108 yards on seven catches. Travis Greene gained only 41 yards on 20 carries but also ran for two touchdowns.
Knapke took over the starting job when Matt Johnson broke his hip in the opener, and led the Falcons to their first bowl win since 2004. They came in on a three-game losing streak and Knapke left with an MVP award named after Bart Starr.
''Who would have ever thunk that his name would be underneath Bart Starr for the MVP of this bowl game,'' Bowling Green coach Dino Babers said. ''That's an OMG right there.''
The Falcons' fast-paced offense had scored nine touchdowns on drives of a minute or less, so the end-of-game situation wasn't much of an ''OMG'' moment.
''I really didn't have much jitters, because this is what we practice every day - 1-minute offense, 2-minute offense,'' Lewis said.
Bridge rallied from a slow start to pass for 279 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice. Woodson gained 122 yards on six catches.
South Alabama had twice closed within six points in the second half, only to watch Bowling Green return a short kickoff to near midfield.
The first time produced one of many quick-strike touchdown drives for Bowling Green. On the second, the Falcons' Tyler Tate pushed an 18-yard field goal wide left with 8:25 remaining. Tate had set Bowling Green's record for field goals in a season and career.
It gave the Jaguars new life but they couldn't score until two drives later.
The game saw both an official and South Alabama's Jones get banged up. Jaguars tight end Ryan Onkka caught a ball on the sideline and his feet came up and smacked Jones in the face, giving him a bloody nose.
''It kind of felt good, blood dripping off the face,'' said Jones, a former Alabama receiver. ''Kind of like the old days.''
In the third quarter, side judge Craig Falkner was hurt when he apparently was struck in the right leg by an object heaved from the stands.
The game itself was pretty hard-hitting, too.
Bowling Green receiver Ronnie Moore was ejected for targeting and penalized for kick return interference in the third quarter after hitting return man Jereme Jones high on a punt before Jones fielded the ball.
South Alabama linebacker Maleki Harris set a school record with 18 tackles, including three for a loss. Bryan Thomas had two sacks for Bowling Green.