When Central Michigan and Western Michigan meet, the two generally put on a show for the ages. This year was no exception as the Broncos were able to win a thriller by a score of 32-20 over their arch-rivals.
"It's an incredible feeling," senior defensive captain Donald Celiscar said after the game. In his four seasons, his Bronco teams won three match-ups against Central Michigan after having lost the previous five contests. "Knowing that we beat them three times, it feels really good."
The tension was built up over a week, and the pre-game coin toss saw the Chippewa captains refuse to shake hands with the Broncos, adding more fuel to an already intense showdown.
"This is a man's game, and I was taught a long time ago to respect the game," Bronco head coach P.J. Fleck said after the game. "Our guys will always respect the game." Celiscar added, "we have class, and they were being Central, I guess."
After the kickoff, Cooper Rush led his Chippewa team down the field, finding Deon Butler wide-open in the end-zone for an early 7-0 lead. After a Jarvion Franklin fumble on the ensuing Western Michigan drive, Rush found Ben McCord on a similar play as the first touchdown for a 14-0 lead late in the 1st quarter, a score that would stand as the teams switched sides.
However, the Broncos would wake up. Zach Terrell was superb most of the game, calmly leading his team down the field despite the deficit and raucous crowd. Franklin would punch in his 23rd rushing touchdown of the season, and a trick play on the PAT would make it 14-8.
After a Chippewa three-and-out, Terrell would again march his team down the field, finding Eric Boyden on a cross-field pass to give the Broncos a 15-14 lead midway through the 2nd quarter. However, after throwing a bad interception on the run, Western would give Central great field position. Six plays later, a Brian Eavey 43-yard field goal gave the Chippewas back the lead at 17-15.
But Terrell, as he seemingly has done all year, regained his composure, and would lead a three play, 98 yard drive that ended as Corey Davis dove into the end-zone on a 33-yard underneath route-and-run. The score would give Western Michigan a 22-17 lead, and momentum as they would get the ball to start the 2nd half.
But for how offensive the first half seemed, the 3rd quarter was a defensive stalemate.
After back-to-back-to-back drives that ended in punts, including a three-and-out for each team, Cooper Rush would have a pass knocked high into the air at the line of scrimmage by Jarrell McKinney, where it would fall into the hands of Bronco cornerback Ronald Zamort - who made the catch despite getting drilled on a potential targeting no-call - for a big swing in the action. Western would drive down the field, but would have to settle for a 19-yard field goal to make it 25-17.
Terrell would make his second mistake of the game early in the 4th quarter, trying to bury the Chippewas with a deep ball to Kendrick Roberts. The pass was too long for his receiver, but not for Jason Wilson, who returned the interception into Bronco territory. However, the Central drive would stall, but an Eavey 37-yard field goal brought the Chippewas within striking distance at 25-20.
The big moment of the game would occur on the next drive, ultimately putting away the Chippewas for good.
After another stalled Bronco drive, with Kelly/Shorts Stadium lively again and Western Michigan on the ropes, J Schroeder unleashed a great punt to pin Central deep in their own territory. However, Amari Coleman - who was having a solid game on special teams up to that point - muffed the punt, and Trevor Sweeney came away with the ball at the CMU 2 yard line, setting up a Corey Davis touchdown two plays later.
Cooper Rush would attempt to lead his team down the field, first getting his team successfully down into Western Michigan territory. However, a miscommunication would result in his receiver running an incorrect route, leading to an easy Brian Williams interception. After a three-and-out, one that burned all of the remaining Chippewa timeouts, Rush again attempted to put some points on the board. But on 4th down, he was unable to hit Titus Davis, with Celiscar nabbing a one-handed interception to secure the victory.
Rush finished 24-for-44 for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns. However, he threw three interceptions, and was unable to hook up with his Davis brother, with Titus finishing with just 5 catches for 88 yards. Thomas Rawls also had a quiet game, getting 68 rushing yards in the first half, but finishing with 76 yards on 19 carries and no scores.
Terrell would finish 15-for-20 for 222 yards and three touchdowns. Despite throwing a pair of interceptions, he was able to find his Davis brother often, with Corey finishing with 9 catches for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also hooked up with speedster Daniel Braverman, who finished with 117 yard on 5 catches and threw an 11 yard pass.
Franklin would finish with just 77 yards on 18 carries and a score, but re-aggravated his ankle injury midway through the 4th quarter. Rawls would also go down late by getting bent backwards on a short run, leaving the MAC possibly without two star runningbacks for bowl season. However, Franklin did appear OK after the game, walking off the field without a major limp.
The true MVP would have to be the Bronco defense in the 2nd half. Western Michigan intercepted Rush three times that half, and allowed 0 net rushing yards. They also only allowed a single field goal, with it coming off a Terrell interception (and big return).
With the win, the Broncos have now won 8 games for the first time since 2008, and have won 6 straight games following the heart-breaking loss to Toledo. Fleck, however, sees that game now as a blessing in disguise.
"Everyone says 'shoulda', 'woulda', 'coulda', but the fact is that if we don't clank (the PAT) off the upright, none of this (success) happens. Everything happens for a reason, and after that, our whole season flipped. We've really matured since then. That's why you coach."
The win also gave the Broncos their first Michigan MAC Trophy since its inception in 2005. It also gave the Broncos their first back-to-back wins at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, with the last back-to-back wins in Mt. Pleasant occurring in 1971 and 1974, when the stadium was built in between meetings. It also means the Michigan MAC Trophies are together at the same school for the first time since 2010-2011 (CMU).
The Chippewas end their regular season with a record of 7-5, and a 5-3 record in the MAC. The Broncos move to 8-3, with a 6-1 record in the MAC and a critical showdown at home on Friday against Northern Illinois, Fleck's alma mater. With a win and a Toledo loss against Eastern Michigan, the Broncos would win the MAC West outright and would setup a rematch with Bowling Green, whom Western Michigan defeated 19-14 earlier in the season.