Game of the year. Without a doubt. Featured on ESPN as Wednesday night’s premier sporting event, we witnessed pure, unadulterated MACtion in its finest form.
It was a 60-minute contest, but the final 3:30 of Wednesday night’s showdown rank among the most bizarre final minutes in college football history. Here is the anatomy of the most thrilling college football showdown of the 2020 season — Western Michigan’s unfathomable 41-38 victory over Toledo in Kalamazoo.
3:29 left on the clock, Toledo leads 31-28
Western Michigan exhausts its final timeout, so Toledo rolls the dice and aims for the punishing blow. On 4th and 11 at the Western Michigan 15-yard line, head coach Jason Candle elects to keep his kicker sidelined after a blocked 31-yard field goal attempt on the previous drive.
Toledo commits to running the offense and snaps it. Quarterback Eli Peters finds running back Bryant Koback on an out route toward the sideline, roughly seven yards away from the sticks at the time of the completion. Koback is met by a trio of Western Michigan tacklers including MAC Defensive Player of the Year honoree Treshaun Hayward. The powerful running back bruises through each defender, absorbs contact, drives his legs, and lands directly back-first on the first down marker.
Toledo went for it on 4th & 11.... and got the first down!! Great effort by Bryant Koback! (It was reviewed and the ruling on the field stood) pic.twitter.com/EXXxv6cjaE— . (@FTBBurner11) November 12, 2020
Whether he recorded enough yardage to move the sticks remains unknown, but the initial measurement ruled a Toledo first down by roughly an inch. Koback actually damaged the first down marker on his landing, and the spot of the ball was measured with the crooked marker. There was no clear call, and controversy arises when the ruling of a first down stands. One play later, Koback waltzes into the end zone on a 4-yard touchdown run.
2:05 left on the clock, Toledo leads 38-28
Western Michigan is frantically assembling a drive down 10 points. The Broncos are faced with 4th and 5 from their own 35, and Toledo possesses a secure 99.9 percent win probability. In a do-or-die scenario, quarterback Kaleb Eleby delivers a game-saving throw to his star wideout D’Wayne Eskridge. The senior picks up nine yards and the Broncos’ longshot hopes remain afloat. Eleby begins to take advantage of Toledo’s backed-off zone coverage. He completes four consecutive passes for a mere 23 yards. But the urgency of moving downfield in an instant isn’t quite there.
Suddenly, Eleby airs one out to Eskridge, who led the Broncos with seven receptions and 131 yards. Eskridge faces 1-on-1 coverage near the sideline. He leaps, high-points the ball, and snags a crucial reception. The speedy wideout adds several yards after the catch and is shoved out of bounds at the 2-yard line. Western Michigan looks destined to slice the deficit to one score.
1:01 left on the clock, Toledo leads 38-28
It felt like the longest goal line sequence possible. With no timeouts remaining, Western Michigan decided to attack the air in efforts of earning a late score. But on the Broncos’ first three passing attempts near the end zone, there was no luck. Earlier in the first quarter, Western Michigan scored a touchdown on a play where the tight end went in motion and upon the snap of the ball, he pushed Eleby with full force into the end zone. The Broncos go revert to this trusty play call and Eleby receives a spectacular boost into the end zone once again. It’s a one-score game.
Western Michigan needs one yard? JUST SHOVE THE QUARTERBACK IN THE END ZONE pic.twitter.com/J1u4zg2AHR— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) November 12, 2020
Last week, MAC kickers missed six extra points. In the second week of MACtion, the kickers showed sharp improvement, until disaster struck in Kalamazoo. With 45 seconds remaining in the week, Thiago Kapps shanks the extra point. Western Michigan needs an onside kick anyway, but a field goal will now be ineffective to send the game into overtime.
0:45 left on the clock, Toledo leads 38-34
It’s inevitably time for an onside kick. Western Michigan punter Nick Mihalic handles kickoff duties. He boots it straight-ahead and breaks out into a full sprint. A Toledo player dives before the 10-yard barrier in hopes of recovery, but the pigskin slips out from his body and the scramble for the loose ball begins. While on the ground, Mihalic stretches his right arm as far as possible, snags the treasure, and pulls it close to his chest. Western Michigan recovers.
Once again, Toledo backs off its coverage knowing the only remaining task it to keep Western Michigan out of the end zone. Eleby methodically picks the defense apart with high percentage throws. He targets Sean Tyler on receptions of 11 and 13 yards near the left sideline. Then, Eleby fires a dart to Eskridge, who traverses the field and lands on the 9-yard line’s right hash for a significant 18-yard gain.
0:20 left on the clock, Toledo leads 38-34
Western Michigan doesn’t have the luxury of a timeout, but the first down briefly freezes the clock. Eleby hurries the team to the line of scrimmage and emphasizes the upcoming spike. Except it’s not a spike.
The whistle blows to start the clock and Eleby sells the spiking motion and looks to his left. No cornerback is in the vicinity of wide receiver Jaylen Hall, and Hall raises a hand to signal to his quarterback. Eleby lobs it into the end zone and Hall patiently waits for the ball as if it were a fair catch. It’s the easiest reception of Hall’s career. Touchdown. The comeback is complete.
0:17 left on the clock, Western Michigan leads 41-38
Western Michigan proved MACtion doesn’t end until the clock reads triple zeros, so Toledo isn’t done yet. The Rockets take over at their own 36, requiring a substantial gain to situate themselves in field goal range. Peters tosses two incompletions as the clock that once favored Toledo dwindles down to three seconds remaining. On the final play, Peters airs out an interception to Western Michigan safety Harrison Taylor.
In the final minute alone, Western Michigan erased a double-digit deficit with a QB sneak on the goal line, followed it up with a missed extra point, recovered the ensuing onside kick, and scored the winning touchdown on a fake spike. It wasn’t just the best finish of 2020 — but rather, a tremendously rare sequence of events that lift it into the category of most chaotic endings in recent college football history.
But it’s bound to happen any given Wednesday night. Long live MACtion.