According to ESPN's win probability chart, Western Michigan had a 98.3% chance to beat Central Michigan for the fourth straight year as the clock at Waldo Stadium read 11:00 in the final quarter.
But the Chippewas utilized several key turnovers, a blocked punt, an onside kick, and a 77-yard touchdown pass to do the unthinkable and completely the unlikely comeback in front of thousands of spectators decked in black, brown, and gold in Kalamazoo.
Here's what we learned from the Chippewas' key rivalry win, a game that sets both teams' records at 5-4:
Mother Nature came to play... and forced turnovers
It was pouring hard in Kalamazoo. The ball was soaked throughout the entire game and the precipitation charged down from the sky, having a great effect on the contest.
For instance, Central Michigan's Mark Chapman muffed two straight punts by Derrick Mitchell. Catching a wobbly, wet football is no easy task, and after witnessing Chapman's mistakes, the teams played it safe and cautiously eliminated the punt return to reduce turnover chances.
There were five total fumbles lost in the game, but none were bigger than Reece Goddard's fumbled snap in the shotgun formation from the Central Michigan 4-yard line. In a shocking momentum shifter in the late third quarter, the Broncos led 28-14 and were about to extend their lead after a Chapman muffed punt. But Goddard couldn't handle the drenched football on the snap and the ball squirmed around through several players' arms before Central Michigan recovered.
Several drives later in the early fourth quarter, while still up 28-14, Western Michigan was driving to midfield until the ball popped out of Jarvion Franklin's hands on an impressive third down run. Central Michigan finally capitalized on a turnover, and this fumble is when the game began to turn in favor of the Chippewas.
Welcome back, Jonathan Ward!
The MVP of the game was Central Michigan's running back Jonathan Ward. Except for the season opener against Rhode Island of the FCS, the junior running back had been unable to find a rhythm all season long. Last week at Ball State, Ward posted his best performance against FBS competition all season, running for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
But in a game where the weather conditions limited the passing game, Ward slipped through the Western Michigan defense en route to 130 rushing yards and one touchdown. He also contributed as a receiver, catching four passes. But most importantly, Ward turned those catches into 81 yards by earning plenty of extra yardage after the initial reception.
Ward scored the touchdown to cut the game to one possession and he also broke out for a 35-yard run on the game-tying drive to set Central Michigan's offense up in the red zone.
Ward is catching fire at the right time, and the Chippewas are a game away from bowl eligibility. Central Michigan's inconsistent offense's strength was the passing game but if Ward can continue this production, it's time for John Bonamego to call plays for No. 5 more often.
Western Michigan misses Jon Wassink
Reece Goddard was placed in a tough position. The freshman quarterback entered a heated rivalry game on national television with just three career passes. Goddard squeaked out an overtime victory over Eastern Michigan in his first minutes of meaningful action, but Wednesday was Goddard's first full game.
He completed 6-of-18 passes for 42 yards, throwing one interception.
Thanks to Jarvion Franklin and his 228 rushing yards, Goddard's job was made easy in the early going. But when the Chippewas' defense stepped up and Western Michigan needed to convert long third downs, Goddard couldn't execute on many of his throws. The true freshman gained valuable experience, but the lack of a passing game ultimately cost Western Michigan the game. Especially when Central Michigan was completing 77-yard passes to win.
Goddard will get better going down the stretch with time and experience. Tim Lester, a former quarterback, had developed Jon Wassink this season before he went down with a broken collarbone. Unfortunately for Western Michigan, the Broncos must be impatient because they absolutely need a victory whenever they can get one to enter bowl season. So waiting on Goddard to develop into Wassink will be tough, so it looks like the Broncos might have to rely on Franklin and Jamauri Bogan to carry the offensive production for the rest of the 2017 season.
To be fair, the conditions were not ideal for passing and it was a tough position for Goddard to be in. Hopefully for Western Michigan faithful, the true freshman quarterback can find comfort and make the most out of his opportunity at the Division I level.
Western Michigan's defense completely disappeared
Sure, the two fumbles the Broncos committed in the second half were costly, but the defense had the opportunity to stop Central Michigan from entering field goal range following the turnovers. Late in the game, the defense looked very fatigue. There were plenty of missed tackles and Jonathan Ward was just zipping past defenders.
But the coverage completely folded with 2:37 left in the game when Shane Morris delivered a bomb down the middle to Corey Willis for a 77-yard touchdown, giving the Chippewas' their first lead of the night. Western Michigan's defense did not step up at all in the second half and the unit was lucky to stay off the field on several occasions when Central Michigan muffed punts.
But the defense was a whole different animal in the first half, forcing six three-and-outs and ruining the Chippewas' hopes of winning the Victory Cannon in the early going. So the unit has plenty of potential — it just has to stay focused and energized, executing on tackling ball carriers and not blowing coverage.
Central Michigan's passion was unparalleled
Look at Shane Morris on this celebration:
huge fan of this celebration by Central Michigan QB (former Michigan QB) Shane Morris #MACtion pic.twitter.com/KiKojpH7OA— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) November 2, 2017
This is a quarterback who has been through the highs-and-lows of college football. He struggled at Michigan but found a new home in Mt. Pleasant and delivered arguably the greatest victory of his college career. You could see the excitement in the Chippewas' players' eyes following the victory, and that passion and perseverance sparked the comeback.
This is a senior class that lost three times to Western Michigan and trailed by 14 entering the fourth quarter. Now, games aren't decided by "who wants it more" because both teams clearly do, but you could see Central Michigan kick it into new gear in the fourth quarter in hopes of beating its bitter rival.
For example, in wet and soggy conditions when the game was tied at 28, Bonamego called for a bomb on 1st-and-10 from the Chippewas' own 23. They wanted that home run ball so badly and went for it immediately. The Chippewas also called an onside kick late in the game. The team did absolutely everything and risked it all to win this game, and it paid off in the end.
And after the game, the Chippewas' players lined up and paraded around with "C," "M," and "U" flags around Waldo Stadium. It was a career-defining moment for several Chippewas, especially Corey Willis, who scored the game-winning touchdown while wearing the teams' honorary No. 21 jersey — a rotating uniform dedicated to the late Derrick Nash, a Central Michigan cornerback who battled with cancer until 2015.