A miracle comeback for Central Michigan on a record-setting day by quarterback Cooper Rush fell just short at the inaugural Bahamas Bowl.
Down by 35 points with 12 minutes remaining, Central Michigan scored the final five touchdowns of the game, including a three-lateral, 75-yard dazzler on the final play.
But Western Kentucky escaped with a 49-48 victory Wednesday when Rush’s two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
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Rush was officially credited with seven touchdown passes, a bowl record, in the first college football postseason game played outside the U.S. or Canada since Jan. 1, 1937. The last of his TD passes came on a wild sequence in which six Chippewas touched the ball.
“It was a roller-coaster ride,” said Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty, who threw for five touchdowns and increased his nation-leading total to 49 on the season. “We were just lucky and blessed that we got the win.”
The Chippewas got the ball on their own 25 with a second remaining after a punt, trailing 49-42. Rush threw deep to Jesse Kroll, who caught the ball between three Western Kentucky defenders at the Hilltoppers’ 29. Kroll advanced the ball slightly before lateraling to Deon Butler, who got the ball to Courtney Williams just before getting tackled.
Williams then tossed the ball to Titus Davis, who caught it at the 15 and outran three Western Kentucky players to the end zone, reaching to knock over the pylon as he fell out of bounds to complete the bizarre play.
On the conversion pass for the win, Rush tried to find Kroll again, before the play was broken up by Western Kentucky’s Wonderful Terry.
A wonderful finish, indeed.
“I want to tell Central Michigan that’s one heck of a job by them,” Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm said. “They showed the heart and spirit that this game is all about.”
The ending largely overshadowed a huge day by Doughty, who threw for 486 yards.
Doughty completed 31 of 42 passes for the Hilltoppers, 8-5, and capped the sixth-highest single-season touchdown total in major college football history.
Rush threw for 485 yards. He never had more than three touchdowns in a college game, and wound up being credited with five in the final 12 minutes for the Chippewas, 7-6. Anthony Wales and Leon Allen added touchdown runs for the Hilltoppers.
Davis had three touchdown grabs and then was credited with a fourth on the final play for Central Michigan.
Western Kentucky got touchdowns on all six of its first-half possessions, with the average length of those drives being a mere 2 minutes, 9 seconds. The quick-strike Hilltoppers finished the season with 577 points, the average of 44.4 points ranking sixth-best among FBS teams in 2014 — and didn’t punt for the first time on Wednesday until 10 minutes remained in the game.
Doughty and Rush exchanged touchdown passes on the game’s first two possessions. After that, Western Kentucky went on a tear.
The Hilltoppers got the next three scores to go up 28-7, before Rush made a great play that figured to give the Chippewas a chance to stay in the game.
Facing a fourth-and-15 from the Western Kentucky 30 with 2:55 left in the half and on a drive where penalties had knocked Central Michigan out of field-goal range, Rush stepped up against a blitz and found Williams over the middle for a score to make it 28-14.
But the Hilltoppers got into the end zone twice more before the half, reclaiming full control.
Doughty had a shot at getting his 50th touchdown pass with about 6 minutes left on a 55-yard gain to McNeal, but he was stripped by Central Michigan’s Joe Ostman. And not only did the record nearly slip away, but the game nearly did as well.
This game was the first of a planned run of at least six years of bowl matchups in the Bahamas. They'll be hard-pressed to see another one like this.