By MIKE SMITH
TOLEDO, Ohio -- Junior Cory Davis caught six passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns Friday as Western Michigan knocked off No. 24 Toledo in a key Mid-American Conference game at the Glass Bowl.
Thanks to Ohio’s win over Northern Illinois Tuesday, Toledo entered Friday in position to punch its own ticket to next week’s MAC title game. It could not pull it off, losing for the second time in as many games on home turf. Ultimately, Toledo lost to two of its chief competitors.
“They were a good football team and they outplayed us. We didn’t play Rocket football today,” UT senior linebacker Chas Murdock said of the Broncos. “On defense, you can’t let up the big plays, and we did that today. We had them where we wanted them, and in critical situations they came through and we didn’t."
Western Michigan, which earned its first share of a MAC West title, took an early lead. After forcing a quick Toledo punt, WMU moved 54 yards on a pass play from Zach Terrell to Daniel Braverman. Backup QB Tom Flacco came in two plays later and ran the ball in from 17 yards out. Flacco also scored on a two-point conversion to give the Broncos an early 8-0 advantage.
“On paper, they are probably 13 points better than us, Western Michigan head coach PJ Fleck said. “We had to take advantage; that’s why the two point conversion right off the bat. We had to put ourselves in an advantageous position and put them in the chase (mode). They had to be able to chase at some point. We felt that was the only way we were able to win. … Big time players make big time plays in big time games, and our kids did. They executed the game plan perfectly."
Toledo answered on its next possession with an 11-play scoring drive. The first 10 plays were runs by either Kareem Hunt or Terry Swanson. On second and goal at the WMU three, quarterback Phillip Ely hit Alex Zmolik on the left side for a TD. Jameson Vest added the PAT to leave UT one short at 8-7.
One of several costly Toledo penalties on the day kept Western’s next drive going. Cheatam Norrils drew a pass interference call on a third down play, and four plays later WMU kicker Andrew Haldeman booted a 31-yard field goal to give the visitors an 11-7 advantage.
Toledo bounced back with the help of WMU’s only turnover of the game. DeJuan Rogers recovered a Jamauri Bogan fumble at the Broncos 28. Hunt then went the distance on UT’s first play and the PAT kick gave Toledo a brief 14-11 lead.
Terrell hit Davis on a slip screen in the left flat on the Broncos second play of the next possession. Davis split the defenders and raced 76 yards down the sideline for a TD. It was one of two touchdowns in the period for the junior.
Toledo came back with a six-play, 73-yard drive on its next possession to take its final lead. Ely’s 56-yard pass down the middle to Cody Thompson was the bit play, setting up UT at the one -yard line. Swanson scored two plays later, and Vest added the PAT for a 21-18 UT lead.
Toledo’s defense forced a punt on Western’s next drive, but the bouncing ball grazed a UT player and was recovered by WMU’s Michael Henry. Given new life, Western moved in for another score. The last 30 yards came on a Davis reception. Toledo blitzed on the play and Terrell retreated long enough to loft a pass to Davis on the right side. He streaked down the sideline the rest of the way for a score that put WMU up 25-21 at the half.
Western added to its advantage after taking the second half kickoff and driving 65 yards with 10 plays. Terrell’s 25-yard pass to Kendrick Roberts got things started. Davis chipped in another 25 yards and a UT pass interference penalty on third down kept the drive going. Toledo’s defense stiffened near the goal line, and the Broncos eventually faced fourth and goal at the one. After a time out, Western went for the TD, and the decision paid off when Bogan slanted off left tackle for the score that put WMU up 32-21 with 9:29 left in the third quarter.
Toledo came right back with an 11-play drive, but when the Rockets tried to convert on fourth and one at the Broncos’ 17, Hunt was stopped for no gain and WMU took over.
Another UT drive later in the period yielded points, but the Rockets had to settle for a 19-yard Vest field goal that left them trailing 32-24.
After a three-and-out by Western, Toledo started to drive again. The Rockets were facing a third and nine near midfield when Ely hit Hunt with a screen pass on the right side. Meanwhile, away from the play, Asante Brown went down after a hart hit by Russell. Brown was eventually carted off the field and taken to a nearby hospital. Brown was ejected and the penalty moved Toledo back. The Rockets promising drive then ended on a punt.
A 35-yard rush by Flacco was the big gain in Western’s next possession as the Broncos used eight-plays to cover 59-yards. Haldeman capped the trip with a 38-yard field goal to put the visitors in command by a 35-24 count with 6:57 remaining.
Another Toledo drive ended after 11 plays and 51 yards when the Broncos defense again stopped UT on downs. There would be just 1:38 left in the game when Toledo got the ball again – this time at its own 25.
Ely found Thompson for 40 yards on the first play and Johnson for the remaining 35 on the second snap. A two-point PAT attempt failed, as did the ensuing on-side kick. Western Michigan kneeled out the remaining three plays.
"That’s the first win over a ranked opponent in program history,” Fleck said after the game. “We’ve never been to back-to-back bowl games. We’ve won the MAC West title for the first time since 2000. We’re accomplishing nevers. A year and 11 weeks ago we were the worst team in college football. We haven’t accomplished our ultimate goals ahead, but I’m just proud of the kids."
According to Toledo head coach Matt Campbell, it came down to execution.
"It's not that our kids didn’t play hard,” Campbell said. “There were multiple different things to point your finger at, but we’re only going to point it at ourselves. We didn’t play good football and that’s it. I’m not disappointed in our kids’ effort, I’m just disappointed that we didn’t execute in some of the critical situations."