The Western Michigan Broncos clinched a berth in the MAC championship game and maintained their perfect record (12-0) following a 55-35 victory over the Toledo Rockets (9-3) on Friday night in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The Broncos relied heavily on the running game to wear down the Rockets defense. Western Michigan possessed the ball for 39 minutes, 27 seconds in large part thanks to JamauriBogan, who ran for 198 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. Jarvion Franklin chipped in with 38 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
The Western Michigan defense also forced three turnovers, which the team turned into 21 points.
The Broncos wasted little time registering the opening score of the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Broncos safety Asantay Brown intercepted a pass by Logan Woodside and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.
Woodside quickly recovered from the turnover, leading Toledo on a six-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game with 12:27 left in the first quarter. He completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Michael Roberts to wrap up the position.
The back-and-forth action caught the attention of Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins:
Fun watching the WMU/Toledo game!
Reminded how 10 years ago they were my only 2 scholarship offers until MSU offered last minute#MACtion
— Kirk Cousins (@KirkCousins8) November 25, 2016
Franklin got the Broncos back into the lead with a 14-yard touchdown run, and a 23-yard field goal by Butch Hampton made it a two-score game, 17-7, with 14:03 remaining in the first half.
Kareem Hunt kept the Rockets in the game with a 38-yard touchdown run less than two minutes later. The senior running back couldn’t find any room on the right and cut back to his left, at which point he found the corner of the end zone.
The MAC shared a replay of his impressive scamper:
Toledo's @Kareemhunt7 is already over 100 yards following this 38-yard TD run. #MACtion
— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 25, 2016
Franklin kept the momentum on Western Michigan’s side with his second touchdown run of the game. He put six points on the board with a little over three minutes left in the half, and Hampton’s point-after attempt put the Broncos ahead by 10 points.
In the third quarter, Western Michigan broke the game open with 21 points in a little over three minutes of game action.
Corey Davis started the scoring with a one-yard touchdown reception with 8:56 left in the third.
The senior wideout had a big game, breaking Trevor Insley’s record for most career receiving yards. The Broncos celebrated his historic achievement:
Corey Davis is now the ALL-TIME LEADING RECEIVER IN THE HISTORY OF FBS FOOTBALL!! pic.twitter.com/Ma2TMbV1AY
— WMU Football (@WMU_Football) November 25, 2016
Football fans will likely be seeing Davis playing on Sundays next year. On Nov. 21, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller tweeted he believes Davis is the No. 2 wideout in the 2017 draft class, and he compared Davis favorably with one of the best NFL wide receivers of the 2000s, Terrell Owens:
He honestly has better hands https://t.co/JGWiFjmXpN
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) November 26, 2016
On the touchdown catch, Davis showed he’ll be right at home in the NFL, getting both of his feet down before he fell out of bounds. The MAC shared a replay of the score:
Western Michigan's @c_davis_81 with the toe drag TD to give the Broncos a 31-13 lead (3rd, 8:56) #MACtion
— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 26, 2016
Bogan put the Broncos ahead 38-14 at the 5:47 mark of the third quarter. Seventeen seconds later, Zach Terrell found Carrington Thompson in the end zone from nine yards out to add more points to the scoreboard.
Toledo showed signs of life with a three-yard touchdown reception by Roberts with 13:38 remaining in the game. On Western Michigan’s first play from scrimmage after the score, though, Bogan ran 61 yards to set up another 23-yard field goal by Hampton, effectively closing the door on any comeback attempt by the Rockets.
Roberts caught his third touchdown with 7:53 left to set a school record for touchdown catches in a season (15), according to Toledo Football.
Western Michigan and Toledo exchanged scores to wrap up the game.
Along with its win, Western Michigan got more good news Friday with Boise State’s 27-20 defeat to Air Force earlier in the day. Boise State (No. 19) ranked two spots ahead of Western Michigan (No. 21) in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings.
With Boise out of the way, P.J. Fleck’s team has an easier road to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked “Group of Five” school.
The Broncos still have one more hurdle before they can punch their ticket to Arlington, Texas. They’ll need to get past Ohio in the conference title game on Dec. 2.
Should it beat the Bobcats in Detroit, Western Michigan will capture its third MAC championship and first since 1988. It would be a great way for Fleck to bid adieu to Kalamazoo in the event he cashes in and takes to another job at the end of the year.
“I was pretty emotional, but I tried to keep it together because we had an entire game to finish,” Davis said of setting the all-time receiving record, per ESPN.com’s Dan Murphy. “It was pretty emotional. I thank God everyday for the talent he’s blessed me with.”
Fleck reflected on how far Western Michigan has come in his three years at the school: “To go from 1-11 to 12-0, I don’t even know how many teams have ever done that in a three-year span. I have no idea. I’d like to know. What those players accomplished tonight is historical.”
Toledo head coach Jason Candle spoke highly of the work Fleck and his players had done.
“It’s really hard to run the table in college football and go undefeated as you know,” he said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). “Hats off to their staff and their players for getting that accomplished.”