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Western Michigan captures first MAC Championship since 1988

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The Western Michigan Broncos held off a late Ohio surge in front of a record MAC Championship crowed.

NCAA Football: MAC Championship-Western Michigan at Ohio Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Western Michigan Broncos (13-0, 8-0) defeated the Ohio Bobcats (8-5, 6-2) on Friday night to complete a perfect season. It was not without difficulty, as the Frank Solich and his Bobcats stymied the Bronco offense to keep the game close by keeping WMU out of the end zone most of the night. Yet, in the end, PJ Fleck captured his first MAC Championship in a 29-23 victory.

The game did not get off to a swell start for the Bobcats. On their first drive, starting quarterback Quinton Maxwell fumbled the ball on a pump fake, with the Broncos falling on it. However, the Bobcat defense went right to work, forcing a three-and-out right off the bat.

However, the Bobcats would do little from there. They would be forced to punt on their next two drives, and the Broncos would capitalize with three field goals on their next three drives, including the second one coming off a Kyle Belack fumble on a kick-off return. With a 9-0 deficit against the unbeaten Broncos, Frank Solich went to his leader throughout the season, Greg Windham.

The redshirt senior took over under center in the 2nd quarter, and immediately went to work. He hit Papi White on a 68 yard catch over the middle, and would find Jordan Reid three plays later to make it a 9-7 game.

However, the Western Michigan offense responded almost immediately as Zach Terrell hit Corey Davis for a long touchdown of their own. A 70 yard catch and run brough the score to a 16-7. After trading punts, the Bronco defense forced a three-and-out, where the WMU offense was able to capitalize on a worn down Bobcat defense for a 54 yard scoring drive just before the half that ended on a Carrington Thompson touchdown catch.

After being down 23-7 at halftime and with Western Michigan possessing the ball to start the half, it looked bleak for the Bobcats. They needed their defense to step up in a big way and they did. On the third play of the half, Brad Ellis intercepted Terrell’s pass to Davis for 32 yards to set up Ohio in great field position. The Bobcats were in business at the Western Michigan 50-yard line and they wasted little time with a quick touchdown pass to Reid his second score of the game.

With both teams trading punts, Darius Phillips ran the OU punt back 43 yards inside the red zone to bring life back into the stadium. The record crowd of 45,615 fans (predominantly WMU fans) roared as their team appeared ready to find the end zone. However, Western Michigan didn’t muster much as Butch Hampton knocked home his fourth field goal to stretch the lead to 23-13. The fourth make broke a MAC Championship Game record held by multiple players.

On the ensuing drive, Windham wouldn’t be denied as he found his favorite deep threat White one more time to cap off a quick 81 yard scoring drive. White’s score made the game a six point game with just over 16 minutes left, something the Broncos had not been accustomed to throughout their season. After the Broncos and Bobcats traded punts once again the Bobcats drove down the field for a 13-play, 48-yard drive but were held to a field goal. Still, with the score 26-23, tension inside the stadium was beginning to mount.

Terrell and sophomore running-back Jamuari Bogan carried the load on WMU’s final drive. They converted four first downs to get inside Ohio territory and drained nearly six minutes of the game clock. Yet, the drive would once again stall, and Hampton’s 5th field goal of the night meant the Bobcats would have to go the length of the field in 86 seconds to capture the elusive title.

The drive started with a trio of long, quick gains to get the Bobcats into Bronco territory. After missing a pass to Sebastian Smith along the sideline, Windham tried to go back to his star receiver over the middle. However, he did not see WMU linebacker Robert Spillane, and the junior picked off the Ohio quarterback for the game-winning interception.

The Bobcats gave it all they could but in the end, they ran out of gas. Windham completed three straight passes for first downs on their final drive but had to be aggressive being down six and it cost him. The Bobcats will still get one more game, but it has to sting being within six points and having a shot at an upset of the Western Michigan Broncos.

The uncertainty is still there with PJ Fleck’s future but that’s a story for another day. The Western Michigan Broncos are MAC Conference champions and pulled off one of the quickest turn arounds from a one win team to 13-0 champion in recent memory.

Players of the game:

Zach Terrell while he did turn the ball over twice it was only his second and third interception of the season. He helped the Broncos when it mattered most and responded fairly well to adversity.

Corey Davis what can you say about this young man is there anything he can’t do. Terrell and Davis now have the second most touchdowns between a duo in NCCAF history with 50 touchdowns together.

Butch Hampton as a freshman in the biggest game of his life not only did he not miss but he made five field goals in two extra points. He also set the Western Michigan single season points record. A lot to look forward from the young kid.

Ohio’s Defense while they did give up 29 points it was a hard fought 29 points that Western Michigan scored. Western came into the game averaging 40+ points a game and beating every MAC opponent by 14+ points. They knew this wasn’t going to be easy but you have to tip your cap to Solich for how well he prepared his players.

PJ Fleck and Frank Solich both coaches gave it their all in this one and this one of the best MAC Championships in recent memory. They both laid all on the line whether it was going for it on fourth down, trusting their defenses or switching their quarterback this game had it all.

Detroit it’s been fun and now potentially Western is off to the Cotton bowl we’ll see on Sunday where their final game of 2016-2017 football season will be.