By Tim Glon
NASSAU, Bahamas — It was a day of ‘nevers’ for Western Michigan.
Jamauri Bogan ran for a career-high 215 yards and four touchdowns to power the Broncos to a 45-31 victory over Middle Tennessee in the 2015 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on a beautiful sunny afternoon at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
It was one big play after another in the contest, as the two teams combined for 1,055 yards of total offense and seven scoring plays of 29 or more yards.
But it was a pair of 1-yard plunges just 1:12 apart in the fourth quarter by the redshirt freshman Bogan that made the difference.
After his 61-yard run set Western Michigan (8-5 overall) up in the red zone, Bogan banged in from a yard out with 6:12 left in the game to give the Broncos a 38-31 advantage.
Three plays later, safety Rontavious Atkins intercepted MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill and returned the ball 29 yards to the 4-yard line.
It took two runs for Bogan to find the end zone, gaining three yards on first down before finding paydirt on second down with 5:00 left to play.
The Bronco defense held on downs on Middle Tennessee’s ensuing possession and the WMU offense ran out the clock to seal the victory.
“This is what ‘Row the Boat’ is all about,” WMU head coach P.J. Fleck said. “This is why it was invented. This is what it’s for. There was all types of adversity in that football game that our kids could have given up, could have folded. Two years ago, we probably would have. Last year, we would have done it some of the time. This year, no way.
“The schedule was built to accomplish ‘nevers’. And we just accomplished two more – first back-to-back eight-win seasons in program history and the first bowl game championship in program history. I think that makes the ninth never we’ve accomplished, which is absolutely incredible.”
Bogan was named the Offensive Player of the Game of the game for his efforts, while teammate Grant DePalma was named the game’s Defensive Player of the Game.
Bogan, the 2015 MAC Freshman of the Year, finished the game with his 215 rushing yards and four scores on 19 carries. DePalma led all tacklers with 12 stops (five solo) and a tackle for loss from his linebacker position.
“The offensive line came to play,” Bogan said. “[Wide receiver] Corey [Davis], Brave [wide receiver Daniel Braverman] and [quarterback] Zach [Terrell] were doing their thing. It opened up so many things. It allows running lanes to be open, and it allows me to do the things that I do. I’m blessed. That’s what happened today. Those guys made plays and opened everything up.”
“We made some adjustments,” DePalma said. “We knew they were going to have some things that were new for us. It’s a bowl game. We just locked down, made a few adjustments, and we pulled it out.”
WMU quarterback Zach Terrell was 18-of-26 passing for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Corey Davis caught eight balls for 183 yards and a TD.
Stockstill had a solid day for Middle Tennessee (7-6), completing 26-of-39 passes for 327 yards and three scores to lead the Blue Raider offense.
His top target was James Richie, who caught eight passes for 126 yards and two scores and ran twice for 61 yards and a third touchdown.
The two teams combined for 475 yards of total offense and 34 points in the first quarter, but the defenses both threw shutouts in a scoreless second period.
It took MTSU only 1:17 to get on the board when James scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 46-yard run to quickly make it 7-0.
Bogan answered for the Broncos just three plays later, running up the middle for 62 yards and a touchdown, and it was 7-7 with only 2:17 gone in the contest.
Stockstill hit James on a 44-yard scoring pass just 1:39 later to put Middle Tennessee back on top 14-7.
Andrew Haldeman drilled a 47-yard field goal with 3:23 left in the first quarter to pull Western Michigan within 14-10.
Cody Clark kicked a 23-yard field goal on the Blue Raiders’ next possession to extend the lead to 17-10 with 1:04 left in the quarter.
The Broncos quickly tied the game at 17-all when Terrell hit Davis on an 80-yard pass and run with three seconds left in the opening quarter. Davis caught the ball on a 5-yard hitch pattern, broke a tackle and raced the remaining 75 yards down the sideline for the score.
Three minutes into the second quarter, Justin Akins intercepted Terrell to set the Blue Raiders up at the WMU 19-yard line.
But the Bronco defense was up to the task, stopping Shane Tucker inches from the goal line on a fourth and 1 run to keep the score knotted at 17-17.
WMU struck quickly in the second half on another 46-yard run by Bogan to go up 24-17 with 2:57 gone.
After a short punt set MTSU up at the Western Michigan 32-yard line, it took just two plays for the Blue Raiders to tie the game.
Stockstill hit Christian Collis on a17-yard pass with 28 seconds left in the third quarter to tie the game at 24-24.
Terrell hit Braverman on a 68-yard scoring pass to put WMU back on top 31-24 with 12:47 to play in the game.
Again MTSU answered when Stockstill hit James on a 29-yard pass with 9:41 left in the game to tie it at 31-all.
Western Michigan finished the day with an impressive 613 yards of total offense, and the Broncos, who were second in the country in time of possession, held the ball for nearly 35 minutes.
“Congratulations to Western Michigan,” Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill said. “I thought it was a really good football game. We gave up too many big plays. (The) keys coming into the game were stopping the run and limiting the big plays, and we weren’t able to do either one of those. I really thought that was the difference in the game.”
Middle linebacker Cavellis Luckett had seven tackles to lead the Middle Tennessee defense.