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2017 Goodyear Cotton Bowl: WMU falls to Wisconsin 24-16

Missed opportunities and a slow start allow Badgers to hand Broncos their first loss of the season

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Wisconsin vs Western Michigan Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A critical Zach Terrell interception and an incredible performance from Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli doomed the Broncos’ hopes at bringing home a Cotton Bowl Trophy to WMU.

With 13:58 left in the fourth quarter and the Broncos starting from their own three yard line, Terrell’s pass from his own end zone was intercepted by T.J. Edwards, putting the Badgers in the red zone with a seven point lead. The WMU defense held strong for two plays before Alex Hornibrook found Fumagalli for a sensational catch in the back of the end zone to push the lead to 14.

Terrell and the Broncos would answer, however, with a long drive deep into Wisconsin territory, ending in a touchdown from Terrell to Corey Davis. The score came on fourth down and four with Terrell seemingly throwing the ball into the vicinity of Davis, who miraculously came down with the ball. Butch Hampton would miss the extra point, keeping the Wisconsin lead at eight.

The Badgers would not surrender the lead on the day, and were seemingly always prepared to go to Fumagalli in big moments. Fumagalli finished with six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, and was easily the Badgers leading receiver, with Corey Clement next in line with 28 yards. He made two big third down catches in the red zone in the fourth quarter, the first a touchdown following the interception, then a second for a first down that all but but guaranteed the Broncos would run out of time.

Considering how the game began, the result is an encouraging one for the Broncos that seemed all but impossible at the outset. It’s tough to imagine a worse start to the Cotton Bowl for WMU than the one they had. Wisconsin jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, scoring on their first two drives. These drives were powered by the running game and highlight reel plays from Fumagalli. The Badgers rushed for 104 yards in the first 15 minutes of the game, in part due to big plays from Jazz Peavy and Quintez Cephus.

The Broncos struggled for much of the first half against the run, particularly against Wisconsin’s sweep plays, but were able to pick up a key stop that gave the Broncos decent field position early in the second quarter. With that field position, WMU bled 8:45 of game clock on a 16 play, 65 yard drive ending in a spectacular touchdown from Zach Terrell on a bootleg. Wisconsin, however, would answer with a late field goal, pushing the score to 17-7 at the half.

WMU started the half off strong, turning their opening drive into points in the form of a Butch Hampton 27 yard field goal to make the score 17-10. Like NIU in a New Years Six Bowl before them, that score would hold at the end of the third quarter.

The Broncos had their opportunities to remain undefeated, and outside of the first quarter appeared more than capable of going toe to toe with one of the Big Ten’s best teams. WMU concludes its season at 13-1, and definitely gave the nearly 60 thousand people in AT&T Stadium reason to feel their trip to the 81st Cotton Bowl Classic was well worth it.