Central Michigan seniors edge Western Kentucky
Chippewas spoil Hilltoppers' first FBS bowl appearance
Wilson caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff with 5:11 remaining, lifting Central Michigan to 24-21 victory over Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Wednesday.
"I couldn't have scripted it any better than my last catch being the winning touchdown in a bowl game," said Wilson who caught 10 passes for 101 yards as the Chippewas (7-6) finished their season on a four-game winning streak.
Radcliff threw three touchdown passes while completing 19 of 29 attempts for 253 yards with no interceptions. Zurlon Tipton carried 23 times for 101 yards, his seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. Teammate Andrew Flory added 105 receiving yards on three catches -- two of them for touchdowns.
Kawaun Jakes passed for 199 yards and a touchdown for the Hilltoppers (7-6), who were making their first bowl appearance since becoming a Football Bowl Subdivision member in 2009.
WKU junior running back Antonio Andrews had 184 all-purpose yards to give him 3,161 for the season. He came up shy in his bid to break Barry Sanders' record of 3,250 set during his Heisman Trophy-winning 1988 season for Oklahoma State.
Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, who coached the Hilltoppers on an interim basis in place of Willie Taggart, passed up a chance for a tying field goal in the final minute. He had Western Kentucky try to convert on fourth-and-2 at the Central Michigan 19. The gamble failed, as Jakes threw an incompletion on a pass intended for tight end Jack Doyle.
Guidry said the players talked him into the fourth-down call.
"We were going to kick the field goal, but they told me that they were here to win the game," he said. "I asked everyone and they wanted to go for it, so we took the chance."
Taggart accepted the South Florida head coaching job after the regular season. Controversial ex-Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has been named Taggart's replacement.
Jakes felt he let his team down on the play.
"I just didn't make the throw," he said. "Jack was my second read and I didn't get it to him."
Central Michigan coach Dan Enos, whose job appeared to be in jeopardy before the late-season surge, was just pleased his defense responded to the challenge.
"I don't know what I would have done, but I will never second guess a coach for trying to win," he said.
Western Kentucky took its first lead at 21-17 with 1:24 remaining in the third quarter on Kadeem Jones' 1-yard plunge, capping a 16-play, 80-yard drive. Jones lost the ball as he extended it, but the officials ruled he crossed the plane before Central Michigan recovered the fumble.
Central Michigan appeared to regain the lead with 9:21 remaining on a Tipton carry on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The play was originally ruled a touchdown, but the Hilltoppers called timeout, and the replay booth ruled Tipton was down just shy of the goal line.
The Chippewas got the ball back on the Hilltoppers' 26 after partially blocking a Hendrix Brakefield punt. With the aid of two pass-interference penalties, they took the lead for good on Wilson's touchdown grab.
Enos' team overcame three second-quarter possessions inside Western Kentucky territory that resulted in no points.
"We knew we left a lot on the table in the first half," he said. "We made a lot of those (big) plays in the second half."
Flory caught two first-half touchdown passes as the Chippewas led 17-14 at halftime. Flory had just 14 receptions during the regular season but was thrust into the lineup because of suspensions. Titus Davis and Courtney Williams, two of their top three wideouts, were suspended earlier in the week for violating team policy.
Flory opened the scoring when he caught a Radcliff pass at the Hilltoppers' 45-yard line and raced untouched into the end zone on a 69-yard play. Western Kentucky tied the game on its first possession with the help of some trickery. Jakes hit Rico Brown for a 70-yard gain on a flea flicker, and Jakes scored two plays later on a 6-yard run.
Flory gave Central Michigan a 14-7 advantage when he beat one-on-one coverage over the middle for a 29-yard score. David Harman's 50-yard field goal with 9:59 remaining in the half gave the Chippewas a 10-point lead, but Jakes responded with a 6-yard scoring toss to Doyle.
NOTES: The Chippewas are 3-4 all-time in bowls, including 2-2 record in the bowl at Ford Field, previously named the Motor City Bowl. They have a 5-3 overall record at Ford Field. ... Wilson extended his streak of at least one reception to 42 games. ... Jakes' second-quarter touchdown pass was the 51st of his career, breaking the school record set by Justin Haddox (2003-06). ... Central Michigan fullback Tyler Lombardo suffered a knee injury on the opening kickoff and did not return. ... Western Kentucky defensive end Quanterus Smith, the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year, missed the game with a knee injury. ... Mid-American Conference representatives had a five-game losing streak in the bowl before Wednesday. ... The Hilltoppers made their first appearance in Michigan since losing to Northern Michigan in 1977.
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