NASSAU, Bahamas -- It may have been the “Inaugural” Popeyes Bahama Bowl, but it could be many years before that -- or any bowl -- has a finish as wild what occurred Wednesday at Thomas Robinson Stadium.
After trailing by 35 points entering the fourth quarter, Central Michigan fell just one two-point conversion short of pulling out a victory. Cooper’s Rush’s incomplete pass with no time remaining sealed a 49-48 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers win over CMU.
It was Rush who gave the Chippewas a chance to win with five touchdown passes in the final quarter. The last followed a Hilltopper punt that left Central Michigan 75 yards away with one second on the game clock.
Rush drifted right and lofted a Hail Mary pass that was caught in a crowd by Jessie Kroll at the 29. He briefly broke from the pack heading left. Just as Kroll was about to be tackled, he lateraled to Deon Butler, who did the same. That put the ball in the hands of receiver Titus Davis who turned on the jets heading right for the end zone. He stretched at the last possible moment and hit the pylon with the ball to provide the critical touchdown.
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“Whatever you can to get the ball into the end zone, that’s what we are trying to do.”
Down 49-48, Central Michigan faced a critical decision on the PAT. Head coach Dan Enos opted for the two-point try for an outright win. ” Cooper had thrown seven touchdown passes already so he was pretty hot. We didn’t want to go overtime because we had trouble stopping them all day,” Enos said. “We just thought we had momentum, and we were going to try and win the game.”
He continued, “I looked at the players and said ‘What do you got?’ And they said ‘Let’s do it. Let’s win the game.’ We had Courtney Williams on one side and Jesse Kroll on the other side, and we’ve got little read routes that we run. Both of those guys are great fade runners and slant runners.”
Rush went for the fade pass to the right corner where Kroll battled WKU junior Wonderful Terry. Wen the ball fell incomplete, Western Kentucky was finally able to claim victory.
Somewhat ironically, the Hilltoppers also came out on top in a huge win over previously undefeated Marshall in their regular season finale. In that game, WKU successfully executed a two-point conversion for a 67-66 overtime win.
Both Central Michigan and WKU featured outstanding quarterback play Wednesday. Senior Brandy Doughty showed his FBS-leading talents by tossing five touchdowns – all through three quarters. He completed 31-of-42 for 486 yards overall.
Rush, meanwhile, completed 28-of-45 for 493 yards on the day, with one interception. He tossed seven touchdowns passes, including five in the final quarter. His attempts, completions, yardage and TD passes were all career highs. The seven TD passes is a school record and ties a Mid-American Conference record.
Western Kentucky and Central traded touchdown passes early, but Doughty tossed three more scores to give the Hilltoppers a 28-7 lead early with 10:03 left in the second quarter.
Rush hit Williams with a 30-yard score with 2:55 left before intermission. WKU, however, was far from done. Willie McNeal scored on a 55-yard pass play from Doughty at 1:41 and the Hilltoppers added a Leon Allen one-yard run with four seconds remaining for a 42-14 advantage at the break.
Anthony Wales bounced outside and went down the left side for a 21-yard Western Kentucky TD midway through the third period.
Down 49-14, Central Michigan began its comeback with a 12-yard Rush-to-Davis aerial at 11:37 of the final stanza. Rush followed with TD tosses to Davis (23 yards at 8:03), Williams (10 yards, 3:06) and Garland (7 yards, 1:09).
Western Kentucky recovered CMU’s onside kick and ran the ball three times. Three Central time outs set up 4th-and-11with 10 seconds left.
A Hilltopper punt left just one second, but CMU made the most of it with a successful execution of the “Hurricane” play. The PAT incompletion then left Central Michigan one short.