In arguably the most anticipated game in Waldo Stadium history, the Western Michigan Broncos could not overcome a slow start against a ferocious Michigan State defense in a 37-24 defeat on Friday night.
It started off well for PJ Fleck and Company, as Darius Phillips took the opening kickoff all the way down to the MSU 30-yard line, but a 3-and-out led to a missed Andrew Haldeman kick. On their next drive, a Zach Terrell pass would be tipped at the line before getting picked off by Montae Nicholson. Two plays later, a Madre London touchdown run would give the Spartans the lead.
But it wouldn't be for long, as Phillips would take the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. With Waldo rocking, it appeared as though the Broncos would hang with the #5 team in the nation throughout the night.
But Mark Dantonio's squad would rebound nicely. They would score the next three of their next four drives (with a fumble killing the other drive) to make it 27-7 mid-way through the 2nd quarter. First, Connor Cook would hit Macgarret Kings on 3rd-and-11 to conver, with the Spartans converting from a London rush from 7 yards out. Then, Cook would hit Aaron Burbridge for 56 yards on 3rd-and-7 to set up another 3rd-and-long conversion, this time for six when Cook found Josiah Price.
After gaining their 1st first down of the game late in the first quarter, the Broncos were able to force a fumble to get the ball back early in the second quarter. However, a quick 3-and-out led to Cook again orchestrating a drive down the field, culminating in a Gerald Holmes 8-yard touchdown rush.
The Broncos would eventually drive down the field, but had to settle for a field goal inside the 5-yard line to make it 27-10, a score that would stand through the half.
The Spartans would continue their dominance in the 2nd half, scoring on a 5 minute drive to make it 34-10. And with time seeming to run out, Fleck used two timeouts as Terrell converted two fourth downs, including this gem to Corey Davis to make it 34-17.
After forcing a punt, the Broncos went 89 yards (officially 80, but Terrell was sacked on the first play) using a late hit on Michigan State, a 26 yard strike to Daniel Braverman, and beautiful 29 yard floater to Jeremiah Mullinax to make the score 34-24 early in the fourth quarter. The Spartans would respond with a solid drive of their own, but they would stall out and hit a short field goal to make it 37-24 midway through the quarter.
Terrell and Company would respond with a solid drive after back-to-back three-and-outs. An excellent touch throw to Braverman would put the Broncos at the MSU 8 late in the quarter. Terrell would attempt a fade to Davis to make it a 37-31 game with two minutes to go. However, the throw was long, and easily intercepted by Vayante Copeland to kill the comeback.
Terrell finished 33-for-50 (both career highs) for 365 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a pair of interceptions, with only one appearing to be a mistake of some sort. Jarvion Franklin finished with only 8 carries for 23 yards and no touchdowns, exiting the game in the 3rd quarter with an apparent head injury. Davis was a monster with 10 catches for 154 yards and a nice tipped touchdown catch. Braverman finished with 13 catches for 109 yards.
For Michigan State, Cook finished 15-for-31 for 256 yards and a pair of touchdowns. LJ Scott led the Spartans rushing, going for 77 yards on 13 carries. London finished with 59 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Holmes finished with 54 and a score as well. Burbridge had a big game, going for 117 yards on just four catches. Price had 49 yards on three catches, including his touchdown.
"That was an electric, special night," Fleck said after the game. 30,885 fans packed into Waldo Stadium on Friday, the largest crowd in recent years with a healthy mix of Spartan and Bronco supporters. "That's college football right there."
"I'm gonna make sure it does happen (again). It should happen, and it can happen. Because that atmosphere fueled our players. We're gonna continue to schedule elite opponents."
He also gave praise to Terrell's solid performance, hanging in to put up career numbers despite taking 7 sacks.
"I hope you all respect (Terrell) after tonight. You might not like him, or might not think he's the flashiest guy, but you better respect him. He's an incredible human and is tough as nails."
The Broncos now have an extra day's preparation as they face a tough Georgia Southern squad on the road. Meanwhile, Sparty now focuses on their home match-up with #7 Oregon.