It is now fashionable to consider Western Michigan a legitimate contender for the championship of the Mid-American Conference.
The Broncos (3-2, 1-0) were ranked behind Toledo and Northern Illinois by most preseason prognosticators, but emerged as a team to watch after defeating Central Michigan 44-14 on Sept. 17 and then losing at now-No. 19 Illinois 23-20 on Sept. 24.
WMU’s position was strengthened Saturday when it traveled to Hartford, Conn., and defeated defending Big East champion Connecticut 38-31. It was the program’s first victory ever over a Big East team.
“We went out there and faced a lot of adversity. Our kids kept bouncing back,” WMU coach Bill Cubit said Monday during the weekly MAC coaches teleconference. “It was a big victory against a team last year that played in the Fiesta Bowl.”
The Broncos, who host Bowling Green this Saturday, relied heavily on their passing offense.
Junior quarterback Alex Carder completed 37-of-51 passes for 479 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage was the ninth best in MAC history.
Three of his senior receivers — North Ridgeville’s Jordan White (12 catches for 173 yards), Chleb Ravenell (10 for 113) and Robert Arnheim (nine for 123) — surpassed 100 yards.
Carder, who took over for record-setting Tim Hiller (Orrville) in 2010, was at his best in the fourth quarter when he completed 14-of-15 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns.
Carder put an exclamation point behind his performance by throwing a 41-yard touchdown pass to Ravenell with 1:35 remaining and the score at 31-31.
“He was unbelievable. He took the game on his shoulders,” Cubit said.
The Broncos’ defense allowed 450 yards to UConn, but came up with a game-saving play at the end.
Freshman safety Rontavious Atkins forced a fumble and then recovered it at the WMU 13 with 45 seconds remaining.
The Broncos hope to build on their recent performances heading into seven closing games in the conference.
“Now, it’s all MAC play. This is really why you play the season,” Cubit said.
In other MAC developments from last weekend:
Toledo (2-3, 1-0): The Rockets opened plenty of eyes by traveling to Philadelphia and beating up on Temple 36-13 in a game that many observers thought might be a preview of the MAC Championship Game. Toledo did little wrong after consecutive losses to Ohio State, Boise State and Syracuse. “I can’t be prouder of this football team. We have gone through three weeks of a football season that was very tough. We were able to bounce back. That shows the senior leadership we have and the belief that this football team has,” coach Tim Beckman said. Senior tailback Morgan Williams (Canton McKinley), subbing for the injured Adonis Thomas, ran for 121 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. He had 16 carries for 77 yards in the first four games. Beckman scrapped his two-quarterback system and went exclusively with junior Austin Dantin, who was 12-of-14 for 115 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for a touchdown. The Toledo defense held Temple junior tailback Bernard Pierce to 75 yards rushing on 24 carries and no touchdowns. He came into the game leading the MAC in rushing (an average of 124 yards per game) and leading the nation in touchdowns rushing (12).
Miami (0-4, 0-1): The RedHawks returned eight starters on offense and nine on defense from their 2010 MAC championship team, yet are the only conference team without a victory in 2011. But first-year coach Don Treadwell believes his team is hungry and that better days are ahead. “As you watch our football team, despite the record we have, you see a team that plays tremendously hard each game. That’s a big positive. They are very resilient, very determined, very focused,” Treadwell said. Miami dropped to 0-4 Saturday by losing at home to Cincinnati 27-0 in a game for the Victory Bell. It was the 116th meeting between the two schools. The Bearcats have won six games in a row in the series to lead 59-50-7.
Ohio (4-1, 1-0): The Bobcats moved to their first 4-1 start since 1997 by defeating Kent State 17-10 in Athens. It also gave Ohio a 3-0 home start for the first time since 2005. Seniors LaVon Brazill and Noah Keller moved up the OU career lists in the game. Brazill, a wide receiver, caught eight passes for 102 yards and one touchdown. He now has 12 career touchdown receptions, moving him into a tie for fourth place in school history. Keller, a linebacker, had 10 tackles to move into 10th place in school history with 349. Keller was part of a Bobcats’ defense that held the Golden Flashes to 217 total yards. Ohio made life miserable for KSU quarterback Spencer Keith, sacking him three times and intercepting two of his passes and three overall.
Central Michigan (2-3, 1-1): One week after being held to 112 yards of total offense in a 45-7 loss at Michigan State, the Chippewas had 563 yards in a 48-41 home victory over Northern Illinois. That’s the highest total for CMU since having 580 yards against Kent State in 2007. Senior tailback Paris Cotton ran 16 times for 110 yards and one touchdown and caught four passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Junior quarterback Ryan Radcliff was 17-of-28 for 387 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.
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