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WKU survived a furious Central Michigan fourth-quarter comeback, which included a 75-yard last-gasp relay play for a touchdown as time expired, but a broken-up 2-point conversion attempt following the improbable TD gave the Hilltoppers a 49-48 victory and the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl title.

The four-person relay by the Chippewas was an immediate hit on ESPN and social media. The final TD was named the play of the bowl season by ESPN’s SportsCenter and was a finalist for a Best Play ESPY.

WKU (8-5) finally put an end to Central Michigan’s 34-point fourth quarter with a defensive stop in the back corner of the end zone.

Trailing 49-42 with one second remaining, the Central Michigan offense lined up for one final prayer from its 25 that was answered.

Quarterback Cooper Rush heaved one last gasp pass 47 yards down the field where it was caught by Jesse Kroll at the Hilltoppers 28. Then chaos ensued. After laterals from Kroll, Deon Butler and Courtney Williams, Titus Davis raced 15 yards, dove and grazed the pylon – launching the crowd into pandemonium.

With the WKU lead trimmed to an unimaginably thin 49-48, the Chippewas (7-6) threw caution to the wind and tried for a 2-point conversion in hopes of winning the game. Rush threw for Kroll, but WKU defensive back Wonderful Terry broke up the fade-route pass to give WKU its first FBS bowl victory in school history under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm.

CMU head coach Dan Enos discussed the decision to go for two and the victory. “We didn’t want to go to overtime because we had had trouble stopping them all day,” explained Enos. “I looked at the players and said, ‘What do you got?’ and they said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s win this game.’”

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl Player of the Game honors went to WKU’s Brandon Doughty (offense) and WKU defensive end Derik Overstreet (defense). Doughty threw for 486 yards, 350 in the first half with five touchdowns, all to different receivers. Overstreet recorded five tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss that included two second-half sacks.

Before the nightmarish fourth quarter, the Hilltoppers played as crisp and dominant a game as they had all season long.

Doughty threw five touchdown passes in the first half to Jared Dangerfield, Joel German, Antwane Grant, Mitchell Henry and Willie McNeal to go with a rushing TD from Leon Allen as WKU scored on each of their six first-half possessions against the MAC’s top defense for a 42-14 halftime lead. Rush also threw for a pair of scores to Davis and Williams in the half.

That Hilltopper advantage was extended to 49-14 after Allen scored on a 21-yard run midway through the third quarter.

The fourth quarter was a different story, as Rush connected with Davis for touchdowns twice to cut WKU’s lead to 49-28. Then defensive end Joe Ostman flipped a 52-yard completion to WKU’s McNeal inside out by forcing a fumble at the Central Michigan 13, which was recovered by Chippewas corner Tony Annese. Annese returned the fumble back to the CMU 36, and from there, Central Michigan marched down the field to score on a Rush TD pass to Williams to trail by 14.

WKU was forced to punt on their ensuing possession, and a four-play, 55-second drive capped by a 7-yard TD strike from Rush to Anthony Garland with 1:09 left gave Central Michigan hope.

WKU successfully recovered the CMU onside kick after the score and milked the clock before being forced to punt, which set up the final frenzied play for the Chippewas that left the stadium breathless and WKU in possession of the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl trophy.

Rush set FBS bowl records for touchdown passes with seven and most net passing yards with 255 in the fourth quarter alone. The combined 971 passing yards and 12 TD passes for Doughty and Rush also broke FBS two-team bowl records.

Teams (Conference)1234Final (Record)
Central Michigan (MAC)7703448 (7-6)
WKU (C-USA)21217049 (8-5)

Attendance: 13,667; Time: 3:39; Weather: Mostly cloudy, 79 degrees
Head Coaches: Central Michigan-Dan Enos; WKU-Jeff Brohm
Offensive Player of the Game: WKU QB Brandon Doughty
Defensive Player of the Game: WKU DE Derik Overstreet
Scoring SummaryCMU-WKU
Qtr-TimeTeamScoring Play - Scoring Drive (Plays-Yards-Time)Score
1-11:23WKUDangerfield 14 pass from Doughty (Schwettman kick) 11-75-3:370-7
1-10:00CMUDavis 21 pass from Rush (Eavey kick) 3-75-1:237-7
1-8:07WKUGerman 12 pass from Doughty (Schwettman kick) 6-75-1:537-14
1-1:13WKUGrant 19 pass from Doughty (Schwettman kick) 9-84-3:287-21
2-10:03WKUHenry 16 pass from Doughty (Schwettman kick) 10-81-3:237-28
2-2:55CMUWilliams 30 pass from Rush (Eavey kick) 12-79-6:5914-28
2-0:41WKUMcNeal 55 pass from Doughty (Schwettman kick) 3-69-1:1414-35
2-0:04WKUAllen 1 rush (Schwettman kick) 6-62-0:4214-42
3-8:55WKUAllen 21 rush (Schwettman kick) 1-21-0:1014-49
4-11:37CMUDavis 12 pass from Rush (Eavey kick) 10-80-4:4221-49
4-8:03CMUDavis 23 pass from Rush (Eavey kick) 5-50-2:0428-49
4-3:06CMUWilliams 10 pass from Rush (Eavey kick) 7-64-3:1035-49
4-1:09CMUGarland 7 pass from Rush (Eavey kick) 4-55-0:5142-49
4-0:00CMUKroll 47 pass from Rush, Butler 11 lateral,
Williams 2 lateral, Davis 15 lateral (pass failed) 1-80-0:01

RUSHING ATT-YARDS-TD29-114-032-161-2
Passing Touchdowns75
Average Gain Per Play8.28.7
Fumbles: Number-Lost1-03-2
Penalties: Number-Yards8-779-105
Average Yards Per Punt19.228.0
Punt returns: Number-Yards-TD0-0-00-0-0
Kickoff returns: Number-Yards-TD4-61-01-20-0
Interceptions: Number-Yards-TD0-0-01-16-0
Fumble Returns: Number-Yards2-270-0
Time of Possession32;5127:09
3rd Down Conversions6-128-12
4th Down Conversions1-21-1
Sacks by: Number-Yards0-04-19

RUSHING (Attempts-Yards)
CMU – Martez Walker 9-68, Cooper Rush 8-26, Devon Spalding 8-12, Saylor Lavallii 4-8. WKU – Anthony Wales 14-95, 1 TD, Leon Allen 13-52, 1 TD, Taywan Taylor 1-11, Brandon Doughty 2-4, Kylen Towner 1-1.
PASSING (Completions-Attempts-Interceptions)
CMU – Rush 28-45-1, 493 yds., 7 TD.
WKU – Doughty 31-42-0, 486 yds., 5 TD.
RECEIVING (Receptions-Yards)
CMU – Titus Davis 6-137, 4 TD, Jesse Kroll 4-109, Courtney Williams 3-70 2 TD, Deon Butler 4-69, Anthony Rice 3-32, Mike Kinville 2-26, Joe Bacci 1-21, Spalding 2-17, Anthony Garland 1-7, 1 TD, Lavallii 2-5. WKU – Willie McNeal 5-155, 1 TD, Jared Dangerfield 5-87, 1 TD, Mitchell Henry 3-47, 1 TD, Allen 5-45, Nicholas Norris 3-33, Antwane Grant 2-30, 1 TD, Taylor 1-28, Joel German 4-27, 1 TD, Tim Gorski 1-18, Wales 1-12,
Tyler Higbee 1-4.
PUNTING (Punts-Average-Long)
CMU – Ron Coluzzi 4-19.3, 25 long. WKU – Joseph Occhipinti 3-28.0, 41 long.