CONSIDERING THAT Bowling Green was 2-10 only 2 years ago, it shows how far the program has come that this season's disappointing end came in a bowl game. It was disappointment all the same.
The Falcons couldn't match San Jose State's prolific passing game, and the defense couldn't quite do enough to stop David Fales, who overcame the wind and cold at RFK Stadium in the No. 24 Spartans' 29-20 win in the Military Bowl on Thursday.
The Falcons (8-5) led twice in the second half, the last time at 20-19 after John Pettigrew's 1-yard run with 10:26 remaining capped a rare sustained drive of 68 yards. Later in the fourth quarter, Fales led the drive that set up Austin Lopez' 27-yard field goal with 4:43 to play, and De'Leon Eskridge's 1-yard run with 2:34 left provided the insurance.
"Two years ago we were 2-10. We were awful," Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. "A year we made a nice step that we went from being awful to average. I felt this was a team that could make that next step and we won three more games . . . We found a way to get from five to eight. Now we have to find a way to get from five to 11."
Improving the offense next season is a good place to start. While Fales, who led the nation in completion percentage during the regular season, completed 33 of 43 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns, the Falcons managed only 264 total yards. Bowling Green's Matt Schilz completed 16 of 35 passes for 159 yards.
"We didn't generate enough yards, didn't generate enough points," Clawson said. "At some point you have to score points to win games. We struggled with that all year. When we played the better teams on our schedule, that's where we came up short."
Then there is the big picture. Not only did Bowling Green struggle in 2010, it started this campaign 1-3 before finishing the regular season with seven wins in eight games.
"We had a good year with a few opportunities to make it a great year," Clawson said. "Today was one of those opportunities, but we didn't make enough plays."
San Jose State (11-2), in the national rankings for the first time since 1975, capped the year with a seven-game winning streak for its first 11-win season since 1940, a similarly remarkable turnaround for a program that was 1-12 2 years ago.
Brendon Kay threw for 332 yards and a Belk Bowl-record four touchdowns, and Cincinnati capitalized on Duke's inept play in the closing minutes to beat the Blue Devils, 48-34, in Charlotte, N.C.
Duke appeared to have the game in hand and was driving for the go-ahead score - and its first bowl victory since 1961 - but the final 80 seconds proved disastrous. With the game tied at 34 and the Blue Devils positioning themselves for a winning field goal, running back Josh Snead fumbled at the Cincinnati 5-yard line with 1:20 left and Bearcats defensive lineman John Williams recovered.
Kay then connected with tight end Travis Kelce on an 83-yard touchdown strike down the middle with 44 seconds left for the go-ahead score for Cincinnati (10-3). Renfree threw for 358 yards - another Belk Bowl record - for the Blue Devils (6-7).