The Western Michigan Broncos (12-0, 8-0) are headed to their first MAC Championship Game in 16 years, and their first at Ford Field following a complete dismantling of the Toledo Rockets (9-3, 6-2) at Waldo Stadium on Friday night 55-35.
The game started out with a bang, as Asantay Brown took the first play from scrimmage to the house on a 21-yard pick-six just 12 seconds in. The lead wouldn’t last long, with the Rockets scoring just 2:21 later behind the powerful ball movement of Kareem Hunt, but the message was sent early on that the Broncos would be a force to be reckoned with.
On the ensuing Bronco drive, Zach Terrell and Company picked up first down after first down, eating up over 7 minutes of clock before scoring on Jarvion Franklin’s 14-yard run. It was Franklin’s 40th career rushing touchdown as a Bronco, breaking a tie with Jerome Persell for most all-time. WMU would force a UT three-and-out, then march down the field again, before having to settle for a 23-yard field goal.
Toledo would wake up. More carries to Hunt kept the chains moving, and the senior running-back hit the 100 yard mark for the 27th time in his career. That mark tied Chester Taylor for most in program history. He hit that mark on a 38-yard touchdown run to make it 17-14 early in the 2nd half. A Bronco three-and-out appeared to open the door for Toledo, but the next drive would kill that.
With a great punt return, the Rockets started near midfield. They would move across to the WMU 42, but would face 4th-and-2. Rocket head coach Jason Candle elected to go for it, but the hand-off to Hunt was stuffed for a loss of three. The Broncos would score just about six minutes later on a three yard run by Franklin to make it 24-14 just before the half. The Rockets would do nothing on their drive, and that would send us to the break.
Coming out of the intermission, the Broncos again burned clock. After a six minute drive, Corey Davis caught his 50th career touchdown on a beautiful toe tap. The catch made him the first receiver in FBS history with 300+ receptions, 5,000+ yards, and 50+ touchdowns in his career. Another failed drive set-up a 27-yard touchdown run by Jamauri Bogan to make it 38-14 three minutes later, and the final dagger would come on the first play of the ensuing drive.
With the Rockets trailing, Logan Woodside stepped back to throw but could not find anyone. Bronco defensive end Keion Adams came around the blindside and drilled the junior quarterback, forcing a fumble on the sack. Nathan Braster picked it up, and Carrington Thompson’s catch on the fade made it 45-21 with 5:30 to go in the 3rd. Another three-and-out sealed it for Toledo, with the Broncos running out clock on each drive.
Toledo would get a score in the fourth quarter to make the final tally a bit more respectable. A couple Bronco penalties - including a targeting call on Caleb Bailey, meaning he’s out for the 1st half of the MAC Championship - got the Rockets to the three, where Woodside would barely hit Michael Roberts for their second connection of the game.
However, Jamauri Bogan broke off for a 61-yard run on the ensuing drive to set-up another 23-yard field goal for Butch Hampton. With the score 48-21 with 10 minutes to go, it was all but over. Toledo would go on to score, but it was too little too late and the Broncos clinched their perfect season with a final drive 7-yard touchdown reception for Donnie Ernsberger’s first score of the season. It would mark Zach Terrell’s 43rd passing touchdown on the season.
Toledo’s final drive was fast and efficient, to the tune of 4 plays and 75 yards covering just over 1:00, but the game was already well within the clutches of the Broncos.
For the Rockets, Hunt had a monster game. He finished with 200 yards rushing on 20 carries and a score, and added 73 yards receiving, but that wasn’t enough to pace the Rockets. Woodside finished 13-for-24 with 229 yards and three touchdowns, but his two interceptions and fumble proved costly as the Broncos got 21 points off those turnovers. His favorite target was Roberts, who had three touchdowns on just four receptions and 61 yards.
For the Broncos, Zach Terrell had an efficient game (19-for-25, 196 yards, 3 TDs), but the story was Jamauri Bogan. The sophomore returned from injury to go for 198 yards on 31 carries and a score. Franklin added 38 yards on 10 carries with his pair of scores, and Davis had 81 yards on 8 catches for a score. Darius Phillips and Asantay Brown each had an interception, with Phillips getting a 33 yard return on his to add to his NCAA high interception return yards.
Western Michigan will face the Ohio Bobcats on Friday, December 2nd at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. The 2016 Marathon MAC Championship will be the first one since 2012 to not feature Northern Illinois vs Bowling Green, and the first since 2009 to not have the Huskies as the MAC West representative.