KALAMAZOO, MI Western Michigan accomplished a nine-win season for the third time in program history, and its first since 2000, with a 27-17 win over Toledo at Waldo Stadium Saturday.
WMU's Austin Pritchard crosses the goal line / Photo: GS Services
A late first-half touchdown and 10 points to open the third quarter put Western Michigan in control of its home finale on a windy, cold Saturday afternoon.
Freshman tailback Aaron Winchester, starting for the first time in relief of injured tailback Bandon West, kick-started the second half with a 47-yard kick off return and it was a heavy dose of the freshman, as he carried the ball six times to get the ball down to Toledo's 11-yard line where Broncos quarterback Tim Hiller found Juan Nunez
in the right corner of the end zone for the sophomore's fifth score of the season and Hiller's 22nd career game with more than one throwing strike.
notched his third-career multi-field goal game with his second 25-yard make of the game to take a 20-7 lead after E.J. Biggers
forced a fumble that was recovered by Desman Stephen
on Toledo's previous possession. It marked the third-straight game in which Biggers contributed on a turnover by a WMU opponent. He also finished with a career-best 10 tackles and two pass break ups to go along with 1.5 tackles for loss.
WMU put its offense together in the second quarter, taking a 10-7 lead as the half expired. The score ensured that the Broncos would not trail at halftime of any game so far during the home season, including last week's "home" game at Ford Field.
Western Michigan regained possession with 1:12 left in the second quarter at its own 20-yard line.
After a Winchester seven-yard run, Hiller connected with Simmons for 24 yards and then again for 10 more to get to Toledo's 39-yard line. Two plays later, Hiller found Nunez for 36 yards down to the Rockets one-yard line with seven seconds left. Hiller stopped the clock and on the next play found Austin Pritchard
from one yard out for the go-ahead score. It was Pritchard's second grab of the season with the second also resulting in a touchdown from one yard out against Northern Illinois in last weeks 23-17 win..
The touchdown pass gives Hiller at least one in each of the last 14 games and allowed WMU to finish the first half with 171 total yards, 142 of it coming in the second quarter. Simmons finished the first half with five catches for 46 yards and Winchester led WMU with 42 yards on 11 carries.
Toledo opened the afternoon's scoring, moving the ball 77 yards in nine plays when Aaron Opelt found Stephen Williams on a seam route from 27 yards out to post a 7-0 score with less than five minutes remaining in the opening quarter. WMU was unable to answer throughout the first frame, finishing with 29 yards of offense, suffering three, three-and-outs and going scoreless in a first quarter for the fourth time this season.
Western Michigan established momentum with its opening drive of the second quarter.
The Broncos received the ball at midfield and moved down to Toledo's nine-yard line for a 25-yard Potter field goal. The Bronco drive was aided in part on a horse collar penalty on the Rockets and a pass interference on junior safety Barry Church. Church broke up a Hiller pass on a fade to Jamarko Simmons
on second down to force WMU to settle for three instead of seven points.
Toledo opened the game with a 45-yard pass from Opelt to Williams but a tackle for loss from Nick Varcadipane
and a pair of incomplete passes sandwiched around a DaJuane Collins run gave WMU the ball at its own 29-yard line. Mario Armstrong
, coming off a career-high 12 tackles against Illinois, broke up Opelt's pass on fourth down. It was Armstrong's third break up of the season and third in the past two games.
After giving up a big play to open its second series, the Broncos defense came up with another tackle for loss, this time on Cody Cielenski
's trip up of Williams. That play was followed by another near interception, this time from senior Louis Delmas
. Toledo's Opelt stepped back and pooch punted for the sixth time this season, pinning WMU at its own 14-yard line.
With WMU leading 20-7, Toledo's Alex Steigerwald connected on his 15th field goal of the season but the Broncos recouped those three points plus some, driving 83 yards on nine plays for their third touchdown of the day, culminating with a 10-yard completion to tight end Matt Stevens
for his third-career TD and second of the season. It also marked the 11th game of Hiller's career where he has thrown for at least three touchdowns.
Western Michigan will have nine days to prepare for nationally ranked Ball State as the two teams will do battle at Scheumann Stadium on Nov. 25. That game, which is scheduled to start at 6 p.m., could be for a share of the Mid-American Conference West Division title, depending on the outcome of the Cardinals game against Central Michigan on Nov. 19.