Mid-American Conference, meet Jarvion Franklin.
On Saturday, after a season where no Western Michigan running back eclipsed the 130 yard mark in a game, Jarvion Franklin, a true freshman, made a statement by putting up an astounding 163 yards on 19 carries, and scored the first three Bronco touchdowns in a tough 43-34 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers.
"I want to thank God for the ability to play (in this game). I was really nervous, but I had a good offensive line to open up holes for me, so that's how I was able to do what I do best. The O-Line deserves the credit though."
Franklin was the stud for the Broncos until late in the 3rd quarter, when the rest of the offense came to life. Until then, it was rough going outside of his powerful runs.
After an opening 3-and-out by the defense, the Broncos came out with some fire. Despite giving up the opening score on Purdue's second drive, Western Michigan was able to respond with a drive down the field to tie the game, then take the lead on Franklin's 61-yard rush with 11:16 to go in the half.
However, after another Boilermaker field goal, this time from 51-yards out with the wind at Purdue kicker Paul Grigg's back, Zach Terrell threw an interception - the lone turnover by either team on the day - which put the ball on the WMU 4-yard line. Boiler quarterback Danny Etling took a quarterback draw up the middle to make the game 20-14 with just over five minutes to go in the half. After another poor drive by Terrell, a Griggs 44-yard field goal made it 23-14, the halftime score.
However, the Broncos would come out with fire, rushing down the field to Franklin's 3rd touchdown, a 26-yard run to bring Western Michigan within 2. But back-to-back scores by Purdue, using a solid run game with some zone-exploiting passes mixed in, made it 37-21, and made the game seem out of reach.
But that's when Terrell came to life.
With his team struggling to move the ball, and his own stats lethargic, the sophomore quarterback hit Daniel Braverman on a 47-yard pass to put the Broncos deep in Boiler territory. A few plays later, Terrell would hit Kendrick Roberts in the end zone to make it 37-28. An early 3-and-out to start the 4th by Purdue, and Terrell found Corey Davis on an incredible catch to bring the score within three after Andrew Haldeman missed the ensuing point-after attempt.
But that would be the last the Broncos would score, as the Boilermakers would drive down the field with their rushing attack and chew clock. Not only would they eat away clock - and eventually score the insurance touchdown (but missed THEIR extra point as well) - but Western Michigan would suffer a critical loss on the drive.
On 1st-and-15, Raheem Mostert took a hand-off from Etling and rumbled up the middle for a 10-yard gain. With time running out and the Broncos needing the ball back, senior cornerback Donald Celiscar came in for a big hit and connected. Mostert would be fine but Celiscar would be motionless on the field for nearly a minute, and would lay on the field for another three-to-four before being escorted off the field with a lot of help, but under his own power for the most part. After the game, P.J. Fleck said Celiscar was "O.K.", but that his overall condition and the severity of the injury was unknown.
Western Michigan would get two more chances to score, but would turn the ball over on downs both times before Purdue finally was able to kneel down for the win.
Despite the slow start, Terrell would finish 23-for-41 for 243 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and the costly interception. His primary target was Braverman, who was in his first game since 2012, as he was injured all of last season. Braverman was another key play-maker for the Broncos, with Davis being held largely in check all game. The sophomore wide-outs finished with 10 catches for 130 yards and 4 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown, respectively.
The Broncos set new highs for the "Fleck Era" in points (34, topping 32 against EMU) and rushing yards (251 yards, topping Nichols). His team did have their moments against the run, but the inconsistency down the stretch led to the final Boiler mark of 226 yards on 39 carries, led by Mostert and his 146 yards on 22 carries. Akeem Hunt pitched in with 78 yards on 15 carries, and both running-backs finished with a touchdown each.
Etling himself finished 19-for-38 for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns, hitting Justin Sinz for one and Gabe Holmes on another. Sinz finished with 7 catches for 65 yards, leading all Purdue wide-receivers.
"I think there's a ton of positives from today's game," P.J. Fleck said after the game. "This team started fast, they finished strong even with the losses of (Justin) Currie (who was lost to an unknown lower leg injury) and Celiscar. We have a long way to go, but there's a ton of positives to take away from this game."
The Broncos now have a week to rest up and heal some nicks and bruises before heading to Idaho to face the Vandals. It is yet unknown whether Celiscar will be healthy or not, but his condition should be noted more as the week progresses. Purdue will face Central Michigan next weekend at home.