Top-ranked Bowling Green looked like they deserved the billing the first 30 minutes of their 30-3 semifinal loss to UC Santa Barbara, but the Falcons couldn't turn the bulk of possession and territory into points.
UCSB did slot the opening score, a John Gallo penalty in the fourth minute, but Bowling Green starved the Gauchos of the ball and camped in UCSB's end from then until about 10 minutes prior to halftime.
Three times the Falcons threatened to get the first touch down of the game, but a 22-meter dropout and two penalties thwarted the efforts.
Nick Viviani did slot a penalty, leveling the score at 3-3. UCSB, again pinned deep in their end, cleared their lines with a kick, which BGSU wing Makonnen Rice mishandled. With a knock advantage, UCSB prop Stephen Salimi picked up the ball and drove forward, offloading to hooker Rob Corsi who raced in the try, which he converted.
Eight Minutes later and nearly seven minutes into injury time, UCSB scored their second try. After the ball was carried into touch following a breakdown, the assistant referee reported a punch. He initially indicated Corsi threw the punch, so Corsi was sin-binned. The AR then indicated he meant the Bowling Green hooker, so the UCSB player was brought back on and the BGSU hooker sent off. Down to 14 players, the Falcons conceded a second Gallo try.
Despite not having much in the way of possession or territory, the Gauchos held a 15-3 lead at intermission.
"The first 30 or 35 minutes we really struggled to get some ball, but we knew that if we backed our defense we would get some possession and turn the tide and put some points on," UCSB scrumhalf James Burroughs said.
"In a game like this, momentum is everything. It’s huge," added Gaucho coach Kevin Battle. "It really set the tone coming out in that second half, and we needed that. We knew we could get that pressure in the corner, we just needed to keep going to it and it came for us."
The momentum was all UCSB's in the second half. Burroughs opened the scoring for the Gauchos with a try six minutes into the new stanza, with Bowling Green still down a man. UCSB continued to attack Bowling Green's perimeter, which proved a weakspot, as wing Jonathan Prickett scored the back breaker, putting the tiring Falcons down 25-3.
As time melted off the clock and it became apparent UCSB would win, Bowling Green grew more adgitated. Viviani and Burroughs, apparently the two best players on the field, picked up their jawing, and it culminated in a scuffle, marring the match. Aggression wouldn't escalate after the two were separated, but UCSB's score would, as Gallo ran in his second try of the match to give UCSB the 30-3 victory.
Burroughs drove UCSB's effort in the second half, directing traffic and offering an encouraging yell when needed. He also dazzled with ball in hand and on defense.
"He's a special kid. Hes a quality player. He runs our offense, he runs our defense, he directs traffic, he really makes all of our guys better because he gets them in the right places, and he's that constant in their ear," said Battle of his playmaker. "He's everything you could want from a halfback. He’s got great service, good acceleration off the back of the rucks and a great right and left foot."
He'll need all of that Saturday, when the Gauchos face Davenport and J.P. Eloff in the National Final.