Despite a fourth quarter comeback attempt that culminated in an incredible ending, the Chippewas could not overcome their first half struggles in the first ever Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, falling 49-48 to a Western Kentucky team that came out firing.
The final two plays of the game will go down as some of the most exciting college football of all time. With one second on the play clock and 75 yards to go, Cooper Rush found Jesse Kroll downfield, and after a series of laterals, an injured Titus Davis barely got the ball over the pylon to give the Chippewas a chance to tie and send the game into overtime. Instead, Dan Enos made the decision to play for the win, but a fade route to Jesse Kroll was knocked away, securing the Western Kentucky victory.
The star of the game was undoubtably WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty, who threw for 486 yards and 5 touchdowns, all of which occurred in the first half Doughty, who will return to WKU next year after being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, hit a variety of targets at will, throwing touchdown passes to five different receivers. Doughty was complimented nicely by running backs Leon Allen and Anthony Wales, who each contributed scores through the ground game.
The Chippewas also found success moving the ball through the air. The passing game, which showed flashes of effectiveness early on, came alive in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Cooper Rush throwing for 493 yards and 7 touchdowns, which set the NCAA record for most touchdown passes in a bowl game. In addition to his game ending heroics, Titus Davis led Chippewas on the receiving end, catching six balls for 139 yards and four scores in his final game as Chippewa. Also contributing to the receiving effort was senior Courtney Williams, who caught two touchdown passes in his final college performance.
It was a sloppy showing for the Chippewas at times. Central was penalized nine times for eighty seven yards, including a few personal foul calls that were indicative of the frustration the team showed for most of the game. Tackling was iffy throughout, especially on several Western Kentucky passes that could have been stopped short but ended up going for long gains. The Chippewas had entered the game with the best defense in the MAC statistically, but they looked overwhelmed against the high flying Hilltoppers offense, only making stops once the Hilltoppers took the foot off the gas pedal in the second half.
When running the ball, CMU clearly missed Thomas Rawls, and were forced to throw early on in the game regardless due to the large deficit. In Rawls' absence, Martez Walker led the Chippewa rushing game with nine carries for 68 yards. Walker replaced the largely ineffective combination of Saylor Lavallii and Devon Spalding.
The exciting loss ends an other disappointing season for the Chippewas. Returning the most starters in the FBS, CMU had hoped to turn the corner and compete for a MAC title. Instead the Chippewas recorded 6 losses for a third straight season and only placed 4th in the competitive MAC West.
- CMU cornerback Derrick Nash served as an honorary captain for the game. Nash, who has battled leukemia on and off since 2013, was granted an emergency waiver by the NCAA to attend the game after he was medically cleared to travel earlier in December.
- One early plot twist was the ejection of WKU linebacker Terran Williams for targeting in the first quarter. Williams went in for a late hit on Rush and ended up with a textbook helmet to helmet hit, leading to his ejection and a penalty. The drive ultimately ended in a Rush pass that was intercepted in the end zone.
- The loss drops Dan Enos' bowl record to 1-1. His only other bowl game was a win over Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2012. Enos remains the only non-interim Chippewa coach to win a bowl game.
- The game was the final appearance for many notable Chippewa seniors, including Titus Davis, offensive lineman Andy Phillips, defensive tackle Leterrius Walton and linebacker Justin Cherocci.
- Records were set by receivers on both teams. Titus Davis set CMU records for most touchdown receptions in a season (11) and a career (35). Western Kentucky WR Willie McNeal became the all-time leader in receptions for the Hilltoppers with his 53 yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
- WIndy conditions affected the game for both teams. Ron Coluzzi was especially affected, punting for an average of 19.3 yards on 4 punts. Kickoffs were also strongly affected too, and both kickers were largely relegated to the sideline except for extra points.