The Battle for the Victory Cannon is one of the fiercest rivalries in college football, and the chapter that was written into the history book on October 10th, 2015 will certainly be a memorable one regardless of who you cheered for.
The Western Michigan Broncos (2-3, 1-0 MAC) were able to hold on against the wily Central Michigan Chippewas (2-4, 1-1 MAC) for a final score of 41-39, but not before Central Michigan mounted a 23-point rally (!) in the third and fourth quarters to bring the game within one score twice.
It was a tale of two halves, with the Broncos absolutely smothering the Chippewas’ offense, especially in the ground game, where no back could get past the line of scrimmage, forcing Cooper Rush into errant throws. The Chippewas committed two turnovers in the first half and committed multiple penalties that killed drives, including a targeting penalty that resulted in Nathan Ricketts’ ejection in the first quarter after a huge stop.
Daniel Braverman was the man of the hour, collecting a 43-yard touchdown after a major Chippewa penalty on his first reception to open up the scoring for WMU, one of three touchdowns he would have on the night, along with 6 receptions and 137 receiving yards.
In the second half, the Broncos found themselves in a hole, as the defense wore down and CMU’s prolific offense kicked into high gear, with Rush throwing two touchdowns in three minutes in the fourth quarter to boost the Chippewas into scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter. Were it not for a 67-yard Braverman touchdown and a failed two-point conversion, the storylines could very well be different.
However, the Broncos found a way to persevere, and that could be credited in part thanks to a ridiculously tough out-of-conference schedule that featured road trips to Georgia Southern and defending national champion Ohio State, and a tough home game against Michigan State. The conditioning from those games, combined with a strategically placed BYE week, propelled WMU into a key victory in their march to the division crown.
The defense had a spectacular showing after looking iffy in the OOC slate, enforcing the old “bend, but don’t break” policy. While Central outgained the Broncos in yards (482 to 477) and matched them in first downs (24), Western managed to force Central to play a game more favorable to its defensive philosophy. Asantay Brown in particular looked spectacular on the day, grabbing an interception and a fumble recovery in the first half, which gave WMU enough cushion to assure a victory. Grant DePalma was also all over the field, stopping any runner that came his way; no one on the Central Michigan roster ran for more than 58 yards.
On the offensive side of the ball, Zac Terrell finally looked poised and comfortable, standing still as a statue with a rocket launcher and throwing his way to a 262 yard, four touchdown day on 15/22 passing. Of course, having the nation’s most-utilized receiver helps move the chains, as Braverman expanded on his total receptions lead and tacked on 137 yards to boot. Heisman evaluators should be salivating at the potential of Braverman. Jarvion Franklin also roared to life in this game after looking severely limited in the other four games. The defending MAC Offensive Player of the Year had 22 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown to help provide balance for the Broncos.
The MAC West race gets tricky from this point out, as Northern Illinois gathered a win against Ball State to move to 1-1 in the conference, and Toledo gained their second victory on the season agianst Kent State to move into the sole lead for the West (after previously being tied with CMU). Western plays NIU and Toledo on the road in the final three weeks, whihc could prove to be a dagger to their title hopes.
That being said, of one were to approach a Broncos fan after the hiring of PJ Fleck that their team would win back-to-back Victory Cannons and be in contention for the MAC West two seasons in a row would have been an insane notion to suggest. Coach Fleck has proven his doubters wrong after a tough first season and has recruited two astounding classes and has been an outstanding motivation-based coach, showing faith in his playmakers and daring to go for the bold plays that separate the good from the great. No matter how ridiculous it might look to row the boat or sprint down the field at the end of the quarter, the players look deadly on the field and show a dangerous resilience that their conference peers should be very afraid of.
I predicted the Broncos would be the victors of the MAC West at the start of the season, and thus far, Western Michigan has done a lot to dissuade changing my mind. With a Heisman-worthy receiver, a two-pronged rushing attack, an efficient O-Line, and a suffocating defense, the Broncos look to row the boat all the way to Detroit, and take some hardware back upriver to Kalamazoo when the season is said and done. The Broncos will be a team to watch this season as an emerging Group of Five power.