Central Michigan came up 2 yards short of the most impressive comeback in bowl history. The Chippewas erased 34 points of Western Kentucky’s 35-point second-half lead, but came up short on a two-point conversion on the final play of the game to lose 49-48.
With one second remaining, Central Michigan took over possession on its own 25-yard line for a final chance to catch the Hilltoppers. Sophomore quarterback Cooper Rush heaved a pass to the opposite 30, where receiver Jesse Kroll was waiting to start a string of laterals that would eventually end with Titus Davis diving to reach the end zone pylon.
Davis scored four touchdowns on six receptions to help lead the improbable second-half comeback. Western Kentucky led by as much as 49-14 thanks to dominating the first two quarters. The Chippewas responded with five unanswered fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Rush.
Rush passed for 493 yards and seven touchdowns. His performance barely eclipsed that of his counterpart, Brandon Doughty. Western Kentucky’s senior quarterback threw for 486 yards and five touchdowns -- all of them in the first half -- to stake his team to a large lead.
After pulling within one on the final play, Central Michigan coach Dan Enos opted to go for the win rather than kick an extra point and go to overtime. Rush threw a fade pass to Kroll in the back corner of the end zone, but it was broken up by cornerback Wonderful Terry. On Christmas Eve, It’s a Wonderful finish.
Game ball goes to: Rush’s seven touchdown passes are tied for the most ever in a bowl game. He completed 28 of 45 passes and ran for 26 yards. He took a backseat to Doughty, the national leader in touchdown passes this season, for most of the game. But his fourth-quarter persistence set up one of the more memorable finishes in recent bowl history.
What it means: The inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl will be one that is not soon forgotten. The first bowl played outside of the United States and Canada since 1937 set a high bar for its future games.
Best play: The Hail Mary complete with three laterals and an outstretched dive at the pylon is as difficult to describe as it will be to top this bowl season. The ball found an unlikely path through Kroll to Deon Butler to Courtney Williams to Davis before reaching the end zone. It’s best just to let the pictures tell the story.
What’s next: Western Kentucky gets an offseason to prepare for life without Doughty, who is out of eligibility. The Chippewas can take plenty of pride back to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, after closing the scoring gap in the second half. Both teams have bigger gaps to close if they hope to contend for their respective conference championships in 2015.