In its first appearance in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (11-3, 7-2 Big Ten ) outlasted No. 15 Western Michigan, handing the Broncos (13-1, 8-1 MAC) their first loss of the season with a 24-16 victory in front of 59,615 fans at AT&T Stadium.
Wisconsin used a full team effort to edge the Broncos as key special teams and defensive performances late in the game, along with a balanced offensive attack, carried the Badgers to their seventh 11-win season in program history.
An exciting fourth quarter fell in Wisconsin’s favor as the Badgers, leading 17-10, capitalized on a combined special teams and defensive performance at the outset. Less than a minute into the quarter, Badger punter Anthony Lotti pinned the Broncos at their own three-yard line for Western Michigan’s first possession of the quarter.
On the first play of the drive, Wisconsin’s T.J. Edwards snatched his third interception of the season, picking off WMU quarterback Zach Terrell to give the ball back to Wisconsin at the 12-yard line. The Badgers took advantage of the turnover and field position as Alex Hornibook connected with Troy Fumagalli on 3rd and six for an eight-yard touchdown pass to extend the Wisconsin lead to 24-10.
Down two touchdowns, the Broncos marched the field after Wisconsin’s score for one of their own. On 4th and four at the Wisconsin 11, Terrell completed an astounding back-of-the-end zone, 11-yard touchdown catch to Corey Davis. Western Michigan missed the point after and also ate nearly nine minutes off the clock during the drive, leaving them trailing 24-16 with 3:27 remaining.
Wisconsin recovered the Broncos’ subsequent onside kick and were able to wind down the clock thanks to a 26-yard first down reception by Fumagalli on 3rd and eight. The Badgers then used three rush plays to run out the clock and secure the victory.
Wisconsin controlled the clock and established the run game in the first quarter using 11:16 for two possessions resulting in rush scores, a Corey Clement two-yard touchdown and a one-yard score from Dare Ogunbowale. The Badgers gained 104 yards on 16 rushing plays, while starting quarterback Bart Houston was 4-for-4 on passing for 62 total yards as the Badgers went up 14-0.
WMU got on the board in the second quarter as its third possession of the game resulted in a Terrell two-yard bootleg touchdown run on 3rd and goal at the 5:27 mark. The Broncos had two reviewed calls overturned during the drive, including a fumble. The 16-yard drive ate up 8:45 with the touchdown marking Terrell’s seventh rushing score of the season.
Wisconsin responded with a 30-yard field goal on its next possession, using a 51-yard reception by Jazz Peavy to quickly get to the Western Michigan 25. The Broncos held the Badgers to just the three points after a 3rd and eight incomplete pass in the end zone by Bart Houston.
Trailing 17-7 at the break, WMU took the ball to open the second half and capitalized with a field goal. Unable to punch it into the end zone from the 10-yard line, Butch Hampton’s 27-yard field goal cut the lead to 17-10.
The Badgers were led by Clement’s 81 rushing yards and Fumagalli’s 83 receiving yards. Wisconsin quarterbacks Bart Houston (11-of-12) and Alex Hornibrook (2-of-2) combined to complete 13-of-14 passes for a .929 completion percentage which tied a Classic record set by Texas in 1946.