Well...that escalated quickly.
Western Kentucky led Central Michigan 49-14 at the start of the Bahamas Bowl fourth quarter, but the Chippewas outscored the Toppers 34-0 in the final period, falling just short of completing the comeback after a failed two-point conversion with time expired.
Trailing 49-42 with :01 second remaining, CMU sophomore quarterback Cooper Rush completed a 45-yard pass to Jesse Kroll, who lateraled it to Deon Butler..who lateraled it to Courtney Williams..who then lateraled it to Titus Davis, scampering 20 yards to finish a 75-yard touchdown pass.
CMU elected to go for the win after the touchdown via two-point conversion, but Rush's fade pass to the corner endzone fell incomplete.
“It was definitely an exciting football game for the fans – not so much for our side in the second half," WKU head coach Jeff Brohm said. "But a lot of credit goes to the Central Michigan team.
"They did an outstanding job in the second half. They continued to fight and battle when they were down by a lot of points. I got to give a lot of credit to their players and their coaching staff. They just gave a tremendous effort, and they fought ‘til the very end. They easily could’ve won the game at the end.
"With that said, I’m happy for our guys. We won the game. And really that’s how the story of our season – all of our games have pretty much been like that. They’ve gone down to the wire. There have been a lot of twists and turns to all of our games. And definitely, there were a lot of twists and turns to this one. But I’m proud of our guys. They’ve worked hard all year. And in this game, the parity is so close that if you can just find a way to win – that’s what it’s all about. So our guys did that. I give a lot of credit to them, and to our staff, for just continuing to work hard, and to find a way to pull out the victory in this great bowl game – this bowl great destination that we were thrilled and excited to be a part of in the inaugural season of it. I tell you what – this is just a tremendous experience that our players had, that our coaches had, and we wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
WKU senior quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for 348 yards and five touchdowns to five different receivers in the first half, helping the Toppers to a 42-14 halftime lead.
They scored touchdowns on all six of their first half drives, but managed only one in seven second half possessions.
The comeback that almost was seemed nearly impossible to consider even midway through the fourth quarter, when CMU had possession and a first and 10 at their own 36-yard line, trailing 49-28 with 6:16 to play.
Then the Chippewas scored on a 7-play, 64-yard drive via a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rush to Williams, but the drive still took a full 3:10 off the clock.
With only 3:06 remaining and still a two touchdown deficit to overcome, CMU attempted a long pooch kick downfield that was nearly recovered after going untouched by a WKU player, but the ball fell just out-of-bounds, and WKU started their next drive at their own 35-yard line.
The Toppers went three-and-out, punted for only 26 yards, and CMU drove 55 yards in 4 plays, scoring a 7-yard touchdown pass from Rush to Anthony Garland with 1:09 to play.
Now trailing 49-42, the Chippewas odds still seemed long when WKU recovered their onside kick try with 1:09 remaining, and CMU had only two timeouts remaining.
But they stuffed WKU on three straight runs, and after using both timeouts, setup the nearly game-winning 75-yard touchdown pass with :01 to play.
"I thought we kind of got a little conservative and got relaxed on offense in the second half," Doughty said. "They did a really good job of hitting our run game up, and it was just one of those grind-out halves.
"And we’ve got to fix that going into the future because we let a few go earlier in the season doing that. I’m just excited that we got the win.”
Despite the monster first half from Doughty, Rush ended up with the game's best passing numbers, throwing for 493 yards and seven touchdowns, the latter an FBS-bowl record.
Senior Chippewas receiver Titus Davis led all pass-catchers with 139 receiving yards and four touchdowns on only six catches.
WKU finishes their season at 8-5 overall, winning their first FBS bowl game in school history, and the Chippewas fell to 7-6.
Stay tuned with WKUInsider.com for many more updates to come from the game.