Western Michigan rowed the boat all the way to the Cotton Bowl, but once they arrived, their boat hit some solid rocks. Those rocks just so happened to be wearing Badger red. Wisconsin finished off an incredible season with a 24-16, well-fought win in Arlington.
Slow, methodical domination was the name of the game for the Wisconsin Badgers, as four of their first five drives ended in long scoring drives. Helping those drives were nine plays of 20 yards or more (the most this season), many of those plays coming on the ground.
Finishing with 184 rushing yards, averaging over five yards per carry, a multitude of Badgers pounded the ground against the Broncos’ defense. Wideout Quintez Cephus took the first snap of the game 14 yards on a jet sweep, which was followed up by a 23 yard run by running back Corey Clement. A one handed, 20 yard catch by Troy Fumagalli would set up a two-yard touchdown run by Clement.
Senior quarterback Bart Houston also had a gem of a game in what is most likely his final game of organized football. He would finish going 11 for 12, with 159 yards passing. His only miss was a Fumagalli drop in the end zone. Between Houston and Hornibrook, Wisconsin quarterbacks finished 13/14 for 178 yards, a touchdown and no picks.
For the Wisconsin offense, big plays – many of them – helped keep the offense moving all day for Wisconsin. Wisconsin took a 17-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Wisconsin’s defense also looked their usual selves, and led by junior linebacker TJ Watt, they held the Broncos’ offense in check. Watt stuffed the stat line with four tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble. In fact, Western Michigan coughed the ball up on five separate occasions, but amazingly were able to recover all five.
The only time in the first half that the Broncos offense was able to get somewhere was on their third drive. On the sustained drive, quarterback Zach Terrell converted a fourth down pass to Davis. After a few replays in favor of Western Michigan, Terrell was able to scamper around Garret Dooley for a Bronco touchdown.
Coming out of the halftime break, Western Michigan had no thoughts of packing it in and slowly crawled their way closer to the Badgers after another sustained drive of 65 yards that resulted in a field goal. But after a defensive stand by the Broncos forced a Wisconsin punt, TJ Edwards (who at one point had committed to play for Western Michigan) crushed the Broncos’ dreams, picking it off to stymie any chance for Western Michigan to score again. His interception set up Alex Hornibrook in the red zone, who on third down threw a beauty of a pass to Troy Fumagalli to give the Badgers a two score lead. It was Terrell’s fourth interception all season.
Fumagalli, in fact, had perhaps the game of his career, which started with the beautiful one-handed catch and ended with his second touchdown catch of the season. He was arguably the MVP of the game, catching six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Davis and the Broncos again would not go away quietly though, and responded with a 75 yard, nine minute drive that ended on a fourth down heave that landed in the hands of Davis for the touchdown to make it a one possession game – WMU kicker Hampton would miss the extra point, resulting in the 24-16 final score.
After a year that began with low expectations from outsiders, an upset win in Titletown, and close games seemingly every week, the Wisconsin Badgers capped the season off with a bowl win. It was the first New Years Six bowl win for the Badgers in 17 seasons.
Most people would have laughed in your face if you had told them that the Wisconsin Badgers would end the year 11-3 and winning the Cotton Bowl. Some even predicted they would have ended up with a losing record. No one would have predicted this.