WKU escapes Bahamas Bowl with hectic 49-48 victory over Central Michigan

WKU head coach Jeff Brohm hoists the championship trophy above his head following the Hilltoppers’ 49-48 win over Central Michigan in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl game in Nassau on Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014.

Kyle Williams

The Hilltoppers’ second bowl appearance came in a vacation-like setting, but the game was anything but relaxing for Head Coach Jeff Brohm and company.

Despite holding a 49-14 lead through three quarters, WKU (8-5) allowed 34 fourth-quarter points to Central Michigan (7-6), including a 75-yard last-ditch touchdown with just one second remaining to bring the Chippewas within one point.

However, instead of sending the game into overtime, Central Michigan opted to go for two and the win, but a fade to the back of the endzone was broken up by junior defensive back Wonderful Terry, sealing a 49-48 win for the Hilltoppers.

The victory marks the first-ever FBS bowl victory for WKU and a bit of revenge after the Chippewas ousted the Hilltoppers in the 2012 Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, 24-21.

Both teams combined for 1,254 total yards of offense — 647 from the Hilltoppers and 607 from the Chippewas — including an FBS bowl-game record of seven touchdown passes thrown by Central Michigan sophomore quarterback Cooper Rush.

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty led the way for the Hilltoppers with 486 passing yards — 350 coming in the first half — and five touchdowns on a 74-percent completion mark. He hit 11 different receivers.

The 971 combined passing yards and 12 combined touchdown passes between Doughty and Rush are FBS bowl records.

Three different receivers hauled in five receptions, spearheaded by redshirt senior Willie McNeal with 155 receiving yards and a touchdown. With his five receptions, McNeal became the program’s all-time leader with 169 career grabs.

Junior receiver Jared Dangerfield tallied 87 receiving yards and a score while junior running back Leon Allen tallied 45. Allen also rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown.

During the outing, Doughty and Allen eclipsed the 4,500-yard passing mark and 1,500-yard rushing mark, respectively, making WKU the only program in FBS history to have a 4,500-yard passer and a 1,500-yard rusher in the same season.

Allen’s totals also solidified WKU as the first program in FBS history with four-straight 2,000-yard all-purpose performers and the second with 1,500-yard rushers in five-straight campaigns.

With the win, WKU ended its season with five-straight victories for the first time since 2002 and just the seventh time in program history.

It was a tale of two halves for the Hilltoppers.

Through the first half, WKU hung 441 total yards on Central Michigan, who entered as the nation’s 16th-ranked defense at 331.2 yards per game, en route to a 42-14 lead at the break.

The Hilltoppers would go on to notch just 206 total yards and one touchdown in the second half in the form of a 21-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Anthony Wales, who led WKU with 95 rushing yards.

Although Central Michigan didn’t manage a point in the third quarter after trailing 49-14, they allotted 348 yards in the second half, which included five total touchdowns in the final period.

With one second remaining, Central Michigan orchestrated a 75-yard desperation touchdown with a 50-yard pass followed by three laterals to give receiver Titus Davis, who finished with four touchdown receptions, an opportunity to dive at the pylon. Although the play was reviewed, it was confirmed. 

The Chippewas opted to go for the two-point conversion and the win with a fade pass to the back-right area of the endzone, but Terry broke up the attempt — effectively sealing the frenzied finish for the Hilltoppers.

Following the win, Doughty was named Bahamas Bowl offensive MVP and freshman defensive lineman Derik Overstreet was named defensive MVP.