Purdue holds off Western Michigan for bowl victory
Detroit, MI (Sports Network) - Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve threw for touchdowns, helping Purdue hold on for a 37-32 victory over Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Raheem Mostert returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, while Carson Wiggs kicked three field goals and recovered two onside kicks. The Boilermakers (7-6) also recovered a fumble with under two minutes left to secure a victory in their first postseason appearance since the 2007 season, when they won the Motor City Bowl.
It was Purdue's first bowl game under third-year head coach Danny Hope.
"We talked about it at length since we became bowl eligible, about making sure that we had a winning season rather than just a successful season," Hope said. "There's a huge difference between 6-7 and 7-6, and there's a huge difference between going to a bowl and being a bowl champion, and that meant a lot to our football team."
The Boilermakers grabbed control with a 20-point second quarter, and Western Michigan (7-6) wasn't able to catch up. The Broncos have not won a bowl game in five tries.
Alex Carder threw for 439 yards and three touchdowns for WMU, but was intercepted four times.
"Just careless with it," Carder said. "Didn't understand that in this game, possession is so important, especially the way our offense works."
Western Michigan grabbed the lead thanks to a turnover early in the first quarter. Paul Hazel sacked TerBush and forced a fumble, which the Broncos recovered at the Purdue 49. The sack occurred on third down and would have forced Purdue to punt anyway, but the fumble provided Western Michigan with good field position.
It took advantage one play later -- Carder found Jordan White for a 49-yard TD, and kicker John Potter rushed for a two-point conversion.
That began a series of drives and plays that provided high drama. Following the WMU touchdown, in chronological order:
- Wiggs missed a 45-yard field goal and Carder was intercepted by Albert Evans, who returned the ball to the Broncos' 38. That led to a one-yard TD pass from Marve to Reggie Pegram on 3rd-and-goal.
- Wiggs recovered an on-side kick.
- Purdue running back Akeem Hunt fumbled the ball away four plays into the bonus possession, but Purdue got it back when Gerald Gooden picked off Carder. That led to a 49-yard kick from Wiggs and a 10-8 Purdue edge with 10 1/2 minutes left in the half.
- Western Michigan drove for a touchdown. Carder hit Josh Schaffer from a yard away on third down.
- Mostert returned the following kickoff 99 yards for a score, putting the Boilermakers back in front.
- Wiggs attempted an on-side kick for a second time, and for the second time it worked. This one resulted in Pegram's one-yard run across the goal line with 4:57 to play. On the final play of the half, Wiggs connected on a 19-yard field goal to send Purdue into the break with a 27-15 advantage.
Wiggs' on-side kicks were pivotal play calls, but the execution wasn't ideal. Hope said confidence in Wiggs led to the kicks, but added that "they were the two worst onside kicks I've ever seen him kick." Wiggs acknowledged as much.
"The first one was a big time mis-hit. It was supposed to be high up in the air, and I haven't really hit one that badly since I started doing it. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, I guess," Wiggs said. "We were going to do it again if it worked, and if they didn't change their alignment. If they did change their alignment, we were going to kick it deep and mess up their return. They didn't change their alignment so we hit it again, and it ended up working a little better."
The Boilermakers never ran away with the game in the second half, but did enough -- offensively and defensively -- to keep Western Michigan from getting back into the game.
The Broncos opened the third quarter with a 21-yard field goal by Potter, but TerBush and Gary Bush connected on a 33-yard score midway through the period to make it a 34-18 contest.
WMU then responded with a lengthy touchdown drive, capped by Tevin Drake's one-yard run, but Purdue followed with a 26-yard field goal by Wiggs. That boosted the Boilermakers' advantage to 37-25 a few minutes into the fourth quarter.
Western Michigan still looked like it had a chance to sneak out a victory late in the game. With 4:28 left, Chleb Ravenell caught a low five-yard pass at the front of the end zone, bringing the Broncos within five points.
They then forced Purdue to punt, and WMU took over at its own 13 with more than two minutes left.
However, on the second play of the Broncos' drive, Carder scrambled out of the backfield and fumbled as he was sacked. Purdue grabbed the ball and ran out the rest of the clock.
TerBush and Marve combined to complete 14-of-20 passes for 177 yards...Akeem Shavers ran for 149 yards for Purdue, which totaled 265 yards on the ground...White caught 13 passes for 265 yards for WMU.
12/27 23:02:03 ET