DETROIT — In what appears to be the most successful year in the history of college football in the gridiron-mad state of Michigan, Western Michigan got the opportunity to close its productive season in the Wolverine State, taking center stage in the Motor City to boot.
To say the Broncos took advantage of that home cooking on Monday would be a gross understatement.
Running back Sean Tyler returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown on the Broncos’ first touch of the football before rushing for another 146 yards, leading Western Michigan to a dominating 52-24 victory over Nevada in the Quick Lane Bowl inside Ford Field. Quarterback Kaleb Eleby had three total touchdowns while Nevada transfer Jaxson Kincaide scored two touchdowns on his way to 105 yards rushing on 17 carries.
Each of the three Michigan-based Mid-American Conference teams — Western, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan — won seven games and reached a bowl, and the presence of Michigan and Michigan State in New Year’s Six bowls this season marks only the second time all five FBS schools in the state reached bowl games in the same season. The Broncos’ fans got the extra Christmas gift of having to only travel two hours east to see the Broncos finish off their season in style.
“Doing it in Detroit is really special,” Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester said. “To have fans here, so many alumni here…tons of people from Kalamazoo made the trip. It was awesome to see the hotel alive last night. And to play the way we did, in front of them with their support, it all came together. It’s a big deal.”
Tyler’s return for a touchdown came after the Wolf Pack kicked a field goal on the first drive of the game, and the Broncos rushing attack, 25th in the FBS in rushing yards per game, racked up a whopping 352 yards as they opened up a 31-10 halftime lead. Western Michigan scored on its first four offensive drives, with Eleby’s 74-yard touchdown pass to Corey Crooms giving the Broncos a 14-3 lead at 6:42 of the first.
The Broncos scored another 17 in the second, including an Eleby 24-yard score to tight end Brett Borske and a 7-yard scoring run from Kincaide just before halftime to push the lead to 21.
Nevada quarterback Nate Cox passed for 121 yards and a touchdown while running back Devonte Lee ran for a touchdown in the second quarter. Cox started for regular signal-caller caller Carson Strong, who decided to forego the bowl game in preparation for the NFL Draft.
The Wolf Pack’s six leading pass catchers did not play in the game as well, either because of transferring out of the program or getting ready for the NFL Draft. Former head coach Jay Norvell left the program at the end of the season to take the same position at Mountain West Conference rival Colorado State. Any positive momentum the team generated in scoring the game’s first points and trying to pull of the surprise was stunted by Tyler’s ensuing kickoff touchdown, and the Wolf Pack never regained the lead afterward.
“You never want your first kickoff to go like that,” said Nevada interim head coach Vai Taua. “I wouldn’t call it a backbreaker. It was definitely another challenge the team would have to overcome right out of the gate.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Monday afternoon’s game, with all photos taken by Detroit-area photographer Aron J. Thornton. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are nine pictures in total.