It was one of the more interesting Cotton Bowl matchups in recent history. The game itself turned out to live up to the hype.
No. 8 Wisconsin was able to hold off a late rally by No. 15 Western Michigan to win 24-16, snapping the Broncos 15-game winning streak dating back to last season.
“It means a ton,” said Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst. “This is the last time this team plays together and to be able to get a win against a good team, I’m proud of them.”
Western Michigan finishes the season at 13-1, going from being one of the worst college football programs in the nation to Mid-American conference champions and playing in the Cotton Bowl.
“It’s just been special,” said Broncos quarterback Zach Terell. “We’ve been through a lot. And from 1-11, the worst team in college football, to 13-1 playing in the Cotton Bowl, what a tremendous opportunity.”
The Badgers got off to a fast start in the first quarter behind their running attack as the offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, allowing running back Corey Clement to operate. Clement had 45 yards rushing and a touchdown in the opening frame. Wisconsin had a 14-0 lead going into the second quarter.
Western Michigan was able to cut that lead in half in the second as Terrell used his “crazy legs” to find the endzone from two yards out. Then down 17-10 early in the fourth quarter, the Broncos would get the ball back with a chance to drive down the field. However, Terrell was intercepted by Badgers linebacker T. J. Edwards, a one-time Western Michigan recruit, to end the threat.
“I think their quarterback was doing a great job all game of reading our eyes and getting the ball out fast,” said Edwards. “We just needed a play to spark it, and I am just glad I was able to do that.”
Wisconsin would cash in on the turnover a couple of plays later on a touchdown pass from Badgers quarterback Alex Endicott to tight end Troy Fumagalli to make it 24-10. Fumagalli, who increased his stock with some highlight reel catches during the game, was named Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game.
“Yeah, it’s special,” said Fumagalli. “We’ve done such a great job working off-season. So much work goes into it. It’s been a great journey.”
Western Michigan would not go down without a fight. On fourth and 4 from the Wisconsin 11-yard line, Terrell would throw up a prayer and it would be answered as Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis outfought the defensive secondary to make the 11-yard touchdown catch.
“Coach [P.J.] Fleck taught us every ball is an elite ball because it was thrown to you,” said Davis.
However, Western Michigan would miss the extra point and was unable to receive the onside kick. Wisconsin wrapped up it after that.
Fleck’s name has been mentioned often with schools that may be looking for a new head coach, such as Baylor. When asked where that stands now that the season is over for Western Michigan, the energetic head coach gave a classic response.
“I’m going to Kalamazoo. I don’t know where you’re going or where everyone else is going. I’m on the bus unless they don’t want me. If 13-1 gets you fired around here, you know, I love where I’m at, period. It’s as simple as that. We’re heading back to Kalamazoo.”
Wisconsin finishes the season at 11-3 and made their 15th consecutive bowl appearance, extending the longest active streak among Big Ten Conference teams.