Cavaliers Lance the Broncos

Charlottesville, VA - Despite losing to the Virginia Cavaliers 31-19 on Saturday, the Western Michigan University Broncos football team showed it was ready to turn four straight losing seasons into a distant memory. Under the direction of a new head coach in Bill Cubit and with a backup quarterback running the offense the Broncos put a scare in the Cavaliers and in their fans.

Bright and early Saturday here in Charlottesville there was a special feeling in the air. The sun was coming up and there were virtually no clouds in the sky. A walk to the local Wal-Mart store hinted that this year's Broncos team is a blue collar group of hard working student-athletes and coaches looking to repair a once drowning ship. A chance meeting with an assistant coach 5 miles away from where the game would be played increased the feeling something special was about to happen.

About an hour or so later on campus one color started cropping up as fans started pouring in to the University Hall parking lot. Game time is 8 to 9 hours away at this time. With all of the trees in the area and all of the orange, an outsider couldn't help but feel like they were standing in the middle of a pumpkin patch. However, unlike other pre-game tailgate parties such as those Broncos fans have when they play against other MAC schools in Kalamazoo these fans of Virginia who have nicknames such as hoomanchew, swvacavalier, DAMHoo, FlaVaHoo, Duece, Landfish, just to name a few.

These "Wahoos" bleed orange and blue and from the moment they arrive at their spot to Tailgate it's all about celebrating there loyalties to the University of Virginia and to talk about the game that is going to be played on that day. Yesterday some fans showed a bit of concern over this game but you could sense they felt that their team would win rather easily. Despite not having any video on a backup quarterback in Robbie Haas, who threw for 2,487 yards and 30 touchdowns as a freshman in junior college in route to being named MVP of the Real Dairy Bowl. They didn't take into account the emotion and change in attitude a new head coach (Bill Cubit) would bring to the team. The same coach who as an offensive coordinator was released following the Broncos visit to the MAC Championship in 1999 the same team who returned the next season to the MAC Championship then went through four straight losing seasons. Wahoo fans didn't take into account a wide receiver in Greg Jennings that has been the best wide receiver in the MAC the last two seasons. They didn't realize that if they took the deep threat away by double and teaming Jennings, he would be able to haul in 5 yard passes all night long, spin, turn and gain an extra 10-15 yards at a time.

While Virginia had a young defense starting on Saturday, they felt they could stop the Broncos and for the most part they did by keeping the Broncos from scoring any offensive touchdowns. But what they weren't able to do on the field was prevent Haas from gaining 271 yards while completing 33 out of 49 passes and tossing just 1 interception. They weren't able to stop Jennings from snagging 16 passes for 156 yards. In contrast Virginia's leading receiver Ottowa Anderson caught the first pass of the game beating two young and inexperienced safeties for a 57-yard gain. Anderson caught 2 more passes in the game for 52 more yards.

In 2003 Marques Hagans faced the Broncos as a backup quarterback. In that game he threw 12 completions in 20 attempts for 162 yards and 3 touchdowns (the most touchdowns in a game for his career). On Saturday Hagans completed 17 out of 25 passes for 252 yards and 2 interceptions. Both interceptions were turned into Broncos points. Following the first interception by Anthony Belmonte was returned 10 yards to the Broncos 41. Six plays later Nate Meyer connected on his 3rd field goal attempt, this one was 32 yards and made the score 24-9 in favor of the Cavaliers. The second interception was a spectacular interception by C.J. Wilson who stuck his hand up in the air as Hagans let go and Wilson then found the ball in his other hand. According to Wilson following the game the only thing he saw 55 yards away was just green and the two pylons marking the endzone. The closest Cavalier to Wilson was about some 20 yards away. As Wilson was running down the left sideline you could hear a huge gasp and release of a lot of air as Wilson and the Broncos just brought the score to within two possessions at 24-16.

Back at the tailgate party earlier in the day some of the things that were discussed were coming to fruition. Jennings was having another typical spectacular day as he recorded his 12th career 100-yard receiving game and extended his reception streak to 24 games. Tony Scheffler was on his way to another decent game until he went down awkward in the middle of the second quarter and apparently dislocated a finger or two. At first it looked as if he may have re-aggravated his shoulder injury of two years ago. Then there is Mark Bonds. Bonds a true sophomore is filling in for suspended Trovon Riley who won't be back until the Broncos make their 2005 home opener against the Southern Illinois Salukis. All Bonds did on Saturday was run the ball 30 times for 119 yards. It's been a long time since the Broncos last saw a 100-yard performance on the ground by a running back.

After the Broncos opening kickoff, and the kickoff following Nate Meyers first field goal of 42 yards (could have made that one from 52 yards), the Broncos quickly learned that it would be much easier to squib kick than to kick to Cedric Peerman. Peerman ran those two kicks back for 72 combined yards. When the Broncos kickoff to him again one more time in the second half he ran for 29 more yards.

It was talked about at the tailgating how in previous seasons the Broncos would quit at some point in the game and that the main thing the Broncos nation wants to see is a team that plays hard for 60 minutes. Usually at the point the Broncos would quit the game would get out of hand or the Broncos would lose on the second to last or last play of the game. Saturday night the Broncos never quit. They went into the locker room at the half down by just 8 yards and all the momentum was on their side. The fans were in shock. They thought they should be up on the Broncos by about 35-3 by that point. To make matters worse for the faithful Wahoos, from the 6:12 mark in the 3rd quarter after Nate Meyer connected on his 4th field goal (40-yards), the Broncos remained within 5 points of the Cavaliers until Peerman punched into the endzone with 5:38 left in the contest.

Moments later, most of the 61,244 fans in attendance started making their way out of the stadium and they were not too happy despite winning the game. After taking care of business and heading back to the same group of fans that shared their pre-game tailgate with, the sense of shock by the fans could be felt. One comment of "Western Michigan was a 1-10 team last year" was heard. Looks of frustration could be seen on many of their faces. Unless you are a fan of either team you would have thought the top 25-ranked team in the nation had just lost to the Broncos.

Some of the next hour or so was spent telling the Wahoo fans that they have a talented young team. A team that just didn't have a way to plan for a team that had several important starters sidelined a quarterback that there is no game film on and a coach who has injected new life into an equally young and talented program.

Where this loss takes the Broncos is yet to be seen because there is no moral victories in a loss, just a lot of lessons that can be learned. Can the Broncos eliminate some of the mistakes they made (none of them were delay of games though)? Can they improve on their punting game that seems to have taken a hit with the graduation of Adam Anderson? Can they eliminate the big pass play by preventing the wide receivers from getting by their safeties? All of these questions will be answered in the course of the next 10 games this season as the Broncos begin their search for their first winning season and open their MAC season at Toledo next Saturday night at 7:00pm in the Glass Bowl.

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