Broncos Finally Win a Close One

Before the Western Michigan University Broncos played the Eastern Michigan Eagles on Saturday the Broncos had dropped 5 games that were decided by 10 points or less. Four of those games were decided by 4 points or less. In what is Western Michigan's oldest rivalry game, the Broncos called on someone who saw a similar situation a year ago against their main rival the Central Michigan Chippewas.

On November 17, 2001 Robert Menchinger kicked a 23-yard field goal to win the game against the Chippewas at the end of the game, after Jon Drach had led the Broncos down the field in less than a minute to secure the victory. This Saturday, Chad Munson led the Broncos down the field on a 5-play, 58-yard drive capped of by a 39-yard field goal by Menchinger, leaving 12 seconds left on the game clock.

On the final drive Chad completed 2 of 4 passes, a 7-yard strike to Jermaine Lewis who forced the ball out of bounds to try to stop the clock and a 56-yard strike to Tyrone Walker to get the ball to the Eagles 17-yardline. "It was a Seattle. I got an automatic outside release no matter what," Walker said. "I saw the ball in the air and I caught it. I was trying to set the team up to win the game." As for why he didn't score a touchdown Walker had this to say, "I think when I caught it I got tense. Seems like I was in my running form on this thing. So that's what I think slowed me down a little bit. But, If I would have relaxed, I probably would have ran by everyone."

The Broncos wasted no time getting on the board when Walker received the opening kickoff, a yard deep in the endzone, "when I first got it, I was thinking about kneeling it," said Walker. Fortunately for the Broncos and their fans he chose to run it out, "I just seen how the wedge just blew everything up. I just seen one hole and just hit it," he said. Officially one hundred yards later, he had tied the school record with Lovell Coleman (vs. Marshall, 1957 and vs. Bowling Green, 1958) for the longest kick return in school history. The 100-yard scamper took Walker all of 18 seconds to complete.

After the Eagles went 3 and out, the Broncos started their first drive on their own 42-yardline. After a 49 yard pass completion from Munson to Lewis put the ball on the Eagles 8-yardline, the Broncos drive stalled and they had to settle for a 25-yard Anthony Apa field goal to up their lead to 10-0.

Eastern Michigan than was only able to manage to get 10-yards on their next drive before punting from the 50-yardline for a touchback. The Broncos were then able to drive down to the Eagles 45-yardline before Munson connected with Lewis on a 45-yard pass for a touchdown, giving the Broncos a 17-0 lead.

On Eastern Michigan's next possession, Carlos Smith intercepted a Troy Edwards pass at the Eagles 38-yardline. After Kendrick Mosley rushed for 7 yards on a reverse and Philip Reed gain a first down on a 3-yard run; Reed then broke free for a 28-yard touchdown run up the middle. The touchdown gave the Broncos a seemingly insurmountable 24-0 first quarter lead.

The first quarter ended on a 40-yard punt by Matt Steffen that was returned by the Eagle's C.R. Roberson for 6-yards to the EMU 36-yardline. Unfortunately for the Eagle's, Tony Carr intercepted his first of three interceptions on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Carr made the interception on WMU's 25-yardline and returned it to the EMU 48, but went 3 and out before Steffen boomed a game-high 53-yard punt that ended up being a touchback.

"We made some adjustments like you do in any game," said EMU head coach Jeff Woodruff. "You try to figure out what your opponents are doing and how can you counter it." After making some of those adjustments, the comeback was on.

The Eagles drove down the field in 7 plays, aided by a 45-yard Ime Akpan run to the WMU 35-yardline before scoring on a 10-yard pass from Troy Edwards to C.R. Roberson, cutting the Broncos lead to 24-7. "I think some of the screen stuff that we were doing. Some of the draw stuff to slow up the pass rush and on defense some of the movement things we were doing with the front and bringing pressure or getting the illusion of pressure," Woodruff felt was the adjustments that helped the Eagles climb back into the game.

After the Broncos went three and out again, the Eagles drove down to the Broncos 6-yardline. On an Ime Akpan run, Jo Jo Mesa laid a hit on Akpan that shook the stadium. When the bodies had cleared out of the way, Mesa and Hausia Faleofa both laid on the Waldo Stadium carpet for a few minutes. Mesa was able to return, but there was no word on the condition of Faleofa. Two plays later, the Eagles pulled to within 10 points at 24-14 after a 2-yard Akpan run.

The Broncos had a chance to up the lead to 27-14 late in the 2nd quarter after Jon Drach came in for his only action of the game. Daniel Marks had come in to replace a shaken up Philip Reed after Reed had taken a questionable hit earlier in the game. On the drive Marks rushed the 6 times for 34-yards before the Broncos settled on trying a 44-yard Apa field goal, but failed to connect when the football bounced off the crossbar.

Before the half ended the Eagles saw another one of their players get injured when tight end Kevin Zureki was carted off the field. The Eagles, who consider Western Michigan their main rival, have been hit severely with the injury bug this season. "We had 19 guys after Ball State that were either couldn't play or were injured during that game and since then it hasn't gotten better," said Coach Woodruff. "Some of them can still go out and play, but they're not very effective. Today, we lost Zureki; Kaletia went out, came back in and was not very effective. The center went out and came back in. Kevin Walter tweaked his AC, which he's had for three weeks. The quarterback (Troy Edwards) tweaked his AC, which he's had for three weeks. We don't have anymore lineman, they've go to play on both sides of the ball."

Eastern Michigan opened up the 2nd half receiving the kickoff from Menchinger for a touchback. But their drive stalled at the WMU 33-yardline after Jeff Westgate registered the Broncos first sack in two weeks. EMU punter pinned the Broncos on a 28-yard punt that went out of bounds on the Broncos 5-yardline.

The Broncos went three and out on their next possession giving the Eagles excellent field position after a 35-yard punt by Steffen. The Eagles were only able to move the ball to the Broncos 10-yardline before settling for a 27-yard field goal by Eric Klaban, pulling the Eagles to within a touchdown at 24-17.

The Broncos finished off the third quarter by driving 60 yards down the field from their own 35-yardline to EMU's 5-yard line before stalling. At the start of the fourth quarter, Menchinger was put in to kick a 22-yard field goal attempt, his first attempt since he missed a 36-yard attempt against Michigan earlier in the season. The coaching staff didn't tell Menchinger he was going to be kicking field goals until the end of the first half, but it was something he was waiting for. "I was waiting for that. I was excited," he said. "They didn't ‘til right there at the end of the first half that I was going to start kicking. So after Apa missed that one, I didn't know anything, I just assumed he'd still be kicking. I've just been waiting for that chance. I was ready to get it back."

On Eastern Michigan's next possession, Tony Carr intercepted his second Troy Edwards pass of the game and returned it 3 yards to the EMU 32-yardline. The Broncos threatened to score again after a 5-yard run by Marks would have given the Broncos a 1st and goal at the 8-yardline, but was called back due to a holding call. The Broncos had to settle for a 36-yard Menchinger field goal to up their lead to 30-17.

However, the Eagles were not done yet. On the ensuing kickoff, Roberson was able to break free and returned the kick 46-yards to the Eastern Michigan 49-yard line. After a 1 yard Akpan run, Edwards, who was visibly in severe pain, connected with Kevin Walter for a 26-yard pass play. Then he connected with Ashantti Watson on a 24-yard pass play for a touchdown that Tony Carr had a chance but missed his fourth interception of the game. "The wind took it at the last second," Carr said. "I had it timed up. The wind just took it and he dove and caught it. So you can't get them all I guess." The touchdown pulled the Eagles to within 6 points at 30-24.

On the Broncos next drive, after a 15-yard WMU personal foul penalty, Munson made his only major mistake of the game. He threw a pass that was picked off by Michael Woods. The turnover would end up being turned into 7 EMU points 8 plays later, when Akpan scored his second rushing touchdown of the game on a 7-yard run, giving the Eagles a 31-30 lead with 7:16 left in the game.

The Broncos had a chance to go up by 6 late in the game when Jermaine Lewis broke free from the secondary, but failed to haul in a 50-yard pass from Munson that hit him in the hands. With 2:01 seconds left on the clock, most of the 11,381 fans in attendance that had stayed for the entire game started to file out of Waldo Stadium only to miss another thrilling WMU finish.

The Eagles had a chance to end the game, but failed to get a first down after the Broncos used up their two remaining time-outs, so they were forced to punt the ball. With 54 seconds left on the clock and at least 60 yards to go to get to the kick line, the Broncos went into their 2-minute drill. A drill the Broncos practice every Thursday afternoon at Waldo Stadium, only in practice they have 45 seconds and not 54 seconds.

On the first play Lewis caught a 7-yard pass but despite his efforts, including tossing the ball out of bounds, he could not get the officials to stop the clock. After an incomplete pass from Munson to Lewis, Walker came in with the Seattle play. Munson said after the game that he had seen the look in Walker's eyes that said I want the ball. Munson obliged by throwing to a wide-open Walker. Walker then scampered 56 yards before being caught from behind by Jamie Manor at the Eagles 17-yardline. Munson then spiked the ball to stop the clock.

After the Broncos took a delay of game penalty, Menchinger came on to kick the game winning field goal. "They didn't know whether they wanted to run some more time off the clock. But, better to be safe than don't want to take a sack or something and don't have any time-outs left. So let's kick it know," Menchinger said about the delay of game penalty. Menchinger went on to say, "I just knew if I hit it we win. Because we will have like 10 seconds left on the clock. So basically that was the game. They gave me the chance and we took advantage of it."

Menchinger's kick went through the uprights to finish off the scoring at 33-31, but with 12 seconds left, the game was not yet over. The Eagles had 12 seconds left to work with, and just as the Broncos had last second scoring chances halted by interceptions this season, Carr was able to end the Eagle's hopes for a last second victory. Carr ended the game by intercepting Edwards for his third of the game at the Broncos 45-yardline.

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