Usually one of the strongest teams in the Midwest, Bowling Green, has started strong in the new Mid-American Conference moving to 2-0 after a 52-33 shootout over Northern Illinois.
But, success hasn’t come easy for the Falcons says captain Mike Ziegler and while his team may have a reputation as a power in the Midwest, they have established another reputation they don’t really want to take credit.
“We have sort of a reputation of coming out flat in games and lacking focus in our games,” Ziegler told RUGBYMag.com. “It usually takes a gut check or two for us to wake up and realize that we have a game going on.”
The game against Northern Illinois was a good example, as the Huskies came out immediately and popped the Falcons right in the mouth. Before anyone knew what was going on, Bowling Green found themselves down 12-0 and had to take a mental timeout from the game to regroup and gather everyone under the posts for a little chat.
“Everyone was asking the question: ‘What are we doing right now? This isn’t our style of rugby,’” Ziegler recalled. “We knew that if we didn’t get back to our game plan of playing for territory and with a lot of structure, there was a good chance we were going down.”
So, the Falcons went back to what they do best.
“For whatever reason, we underestimate a lot of the opponents we play and that has to stop,” said Ziegler. “Teams have a lot of great potential on their rosters, but just lack structure and experience; two things we have plenty of having been at this level. Sooner or later, teams are going to start to surprise.”
That lack of experience is due to the fact that the newly formed MAC Conference has teams that haven’t played at the DI-AA level. The Falcons are the only team in this conference who haven’t had to make that transition. That experience has been one of things that has saved them.
“NIU did a really good job of hitting us early,” Ziegler said. “Only thing was they weren’t really able to maintain it because of their lack of structure. They really just tried to outplay us without experience and structure and that’s when they started to fall behind.”
Bowling Green players and coaches know they are the favorite to win the conference which puts that target on their backs every weekend.
What makes the Falcons able to recover their pattern so quickly? Their core players and experience others lack at this level.
“Even though we have some guys with limited game experience and some that play out of position, we have been able to maintain a great core of players for as long as I have been here,” Ziegler said. “We lost the Santa Barbara in the Final Fours last year and now we are extremely hungry to get back because once you experience that, you can never let it go.”
They certainly have the tools to do it with a lot of great talent in Ziegler himself, center Dominic Maur leading an experience backline and a tight group of forwards that have been working tirelessly to get themselves better.
With the addition of former London Wasps player Dave Laham as their forwards coach, it’s only going to be a matter of time before this team gets even more dangerous.
“The forwards are out on our days off working with Dave on lineout and set pieces; constantly trying to work out the kinks and perfect their craft,” Ziegler said. “They got pushed around a bit in our first games and took it personally. They are out there right now just making themselves better and more prepared for next weekend.”
For Bowling Green, it will be welcoming the Ball State Cardinals into town; a team that has started slow, but is in no way a pushover. Bowling Green knows that and is looking forward to yet another weekend challenge, and have learned they need to start the match stronger.