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Western Michigan holds off Ohio, 29-23, to win MAC Championship

Windham provides spark, but is intercepted in final minute

DETROIT – Robert Spillane intercepted Ohio’s Greg Windham inside Western Michigan’s 30-yard line with 51 seconds remaining, and the Broncos held on to defeat the Bobcats, 29-23, on Friday night to remain undefeated and in contention for the Cotton Bowl while denying Ohio its first Mid-American Conference championship since 1968.

Windham, a senior, came on in relief of redshirt freshman Quinton Maxwell and nearly rallied the Bobcats, who trailed 23-7 at halftime. Ohio’s defense also did its part, limiting the high-scoring Western Michigan offense to five field goals and two touchdowns in by far the highest-attended MAC Championship Game with a crowd of 45,615 at Ford Field.

“It was a good football game, I thought, played by two very good football teams that had a lot of heart, played hard and tough for four quarters,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “Both sides made plays. Proud of our guys. Obviously some things we could have done better.”

Ohio’s top-five nationally ranked rushing defense held No. 17 Western Michigan to 114 yards on the ground and 404 yards overall – its lowest totals of the season – but the Bobcats could not generate quite enough offense. Even with Windham providing a spark, Ohio had just 251 yards of offense and struggled even more to get going on the ground with only 37 yards.

Even so, with the defense holding Western Michigan to a field goal one more time, Ohio had a chance to pull the upset as a nearly 20-point underdog. Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell was stopped 7 yards short of a first down, leading Western Michigan to settle for a Butch Hampton 34-yard field goal with 1:24 remaining.

Windham hit Elijah Ball for an 18-yard gain on Ohio’s first play, and consecutive 10-yard passes – one to Sebastian Smith and another to Maleek Irons – moved the ball to the Western Michigan 37-yard line with around a minute to play.

But after an incompletion, Spillane dropped back into coverage, and Windham apparently never saw him, leading to a game-clinching third turnover forced by the Broncos. Ohio lost a pair of fumbles in the game’s first nine minutes.

Despite the offensive struggles early, Ohio remained in it. Hampton kicked a 42-yard field goal on Western Michigan’s second possession, and then after recovering a Kyle Belack fumble on the ensuing kick return, the Broncos added a 27-yarder to make it 6-0.

One more time, Western Michigan settled for a field goal – this one from 21 yards – after Tarell Basham and Kurt Laseak combined for a 2-yard loss on a Jamuauri Bogan run on 3-and-1.

Windham’s impact was immediate upon entering with 9:30 left in the first half. He hit Papi White for a 67-yard gain, leading to an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reid on third-and-goal, making it 9-7.

“We weren't getting a lot done with Quinton at the helm,” Solich said. “He overthrew a pass and just didn't seem like he was operating at the level that we needed him to operate at and so decided to go with Greg, and obviously it ended up being a good decision in terms of Greg responding really very well, you know, coming off an injury where he was, I think, close to 100 percent tonight, which he hasn't been that way for a while.”

But Western Michigan got its biggest play of the night on its next play from scrimmage, with Corey Davis, the NCAA’s all-time leader in receiving yards making a 70-yard touchdown catch to put the Broncos back up nine. Later, they added to their advantage with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Terrell to Carrington Thompson with 36 seconds left in the first half.

Freshman cornerback Brad Ellis got Ohio back in the game with an interception of Terrell, returned to the 5-yard line to start the third quarter, and Windham threw his second touchdown pass to Reid to make it 23-13 after Louis Zervos missed the extra point.

Javon Hagan broke up a fourth-down pass with a big hit late in the fourth quarter, forcing Western Michigan to settle for a field goal again, a 33-yarder making it 26-13 with 3:28 left in the third quarter.

It took Ohio barely more than two minutes to get back within a score, with a 31-yard pass to White making it 26-20 with 1:09 left in the third quarter.

Terrell, who entered the game having thrown only one interception all season, was picked off a second time by a diving Kylan Nelson, and that ultimately led to a 37-yard Zervos field goal, making it 26-23 with 7:14 remaining. With a chance to take the lead with a touchdown, Ohio moved inside the 20-yard line but had two runs combine for a loss of a yard before an incompletion forced the field goal.

Windham threw for 214 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-30 passing and rushed for a team-high 14 yards on three attempts. Maxwell was incomplete on his only pass attempt and had 7 yards on 4 carries.

“I told my coaches and I told my team I was going to give it all I got as soon as I got my chance, and I got my opportunity and I made the most out of it,” Windham said. “Unfortunately, we came up short.”

White’s two receptions were good for 98 yards, while Smith caught four passes for 52 yards.

Terrell was 19-of-31 passing for 290 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with Davis eight times for 144 yards. Bogan had 26 carries for 78 yards.

On defense, Toran Davis and Blair Brown each had 11 tackles, including one for loss, and Chad Moore had 10 tackles.

“Nobody gave up the heart,” Davis said. “Greg having to come off the bench and then come in and play like that, it takes a lot of heart to do that. That shows what our team is made of and it shows what we capable of. It's definitely a big accomplishment showing our heart and showing the pride in our team that we take in playing the game.”

The Bobcats will await word on their bowl selection in the upcoming days.

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