Sunday, September 7, 2003

Boilermakers unable to make crucial plays


Bowling Green 27, No. 16 Purdue 26

The Associated Press

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Charles Sharon made the game-winning play. Josh Harris made a statement.

Harris led Bowling Green on a game-winning drive, finishing it with an improbable 32-yard touchdown pass to Sharon with 2:08 left and giving the Falcons a 27-26 victory over No. 16 Purdue.

"If Josh Harris isn't a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, I don't know who is," Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon shouted exuberantly.

The wild celebration started before Falcons receiver Cole Magner backed out of the end zone as time expired.

Bowling Green players mobbed Sharon after his catch and bounced up and down anxiously on the sidelines as Purdue (0-1) tried to rally.

When the game ended, the Falcons (2-0) raced off the field with their helmets raised. Even Brandon couldn't contain himself as he clapped his hands and patted his players on the back near midfield, thanking them for producing Bowling Green's first victory over a ranked opponent since Sept. 16, 1972. That victory came against No. 18 Purdue, 17-14.

The day belonged to Harris, though, who delivered a brilliant performance in a rare opportunity against a top-rated team.

Harris was 22-of-40 for 357 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also ran 19 times for 34 yards and continually put his receivers in position to make plays.

Magner and James Hawkins, each topped 100 yards receiving and running back P.J. Pope produced 66 total yards. Manger caught eight passes for 127 yards; Hawkins three for 106.

Facing fourth-and-14, Harris avoided heavy pressure by stepping up in the pocket and throwing the ball just before he was hit. As the ball fluttered toward the end zone, Sharon ran toward it, dove and caught it between four Purdue defenders - one of whom tried to wrestle it away.

"He tried to grab it with me, and the ref made a great call," Sharon said.

For the Boilermakers, it was a game filled with close calls and agonizing results.

Last year's top defense in the Big Ten allowed 407 yards, and the offense was out of sync.

Purdue couldn't take advantage of a huge field-position edge in the first quarter, and Taylor Stubblefield will remember this game not for the 16 receptions and 139 yards he had but for two dropped passes when the Boilermakers tried to come back.

Quarterback Kyle Orton was 26-of-42 for 255 yards and three touchdowns but couldn't convert two other chances - overthrowing Anthony Chambers with 1:05 to go and watching John Standeford drop what would have been a long TD pass in the first half.

It was that kind of day for Purdue, which lost on opening day for the first time since 1998 and lost its home opener for the first time in coach Joe Tiller's seven seasons.

"They made the plays, we didn't," Tiller said. "There were a lot of plays to be made during the game and we didn't make them."

Instead, Harris made Purdue pay for its mistakes.

He threw an 11-yard TD pass to Magner to tie the game at 7 midway through the second quarter, and an 8-yard TD pass to Hawkins, which gave Bowling Green a 17-10 lead midway through the third quarter.

On the final drive, trailing 24-20, he converted a fourth-and-3 with an 18-yard pass to Cornelius McGrady and then found Sharon on the crucial fourth down.

"There's not a whole lot of plays you pick up 14 yards and not get a touchdown or something like that," Harris said. "We needed to make a play and we got it to a guy who was going to make a play."

Purdue still had one chance, moving to the Bowling Green 33 with 1:10 left.

But Orton missed an open Chambers near Bowling Green's 10-yard line and Stubblefield dropped a pass near the 20.

Purdue could have tried a 50-yard field goal to send it into overtime; instead Tiller decided to go for it. Orton had Stubblefield near the first-down marker, but he couldn't hang on and Bowling Green ran out the clock.

"This win goes to show you what you can do when you believe in yourself," Harris said. "It comes down to who makes the plays. Today, Bowling Green made the plays."




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