Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
KALAMAZOO, Mich. - Forty-one degrees at kickoff. A steady rain throughout most of the night.
John Bonamego was in paradise when it was all said and done.
Bonamego watched his Central Michigan football team score three fourth-quarter touchdowns on Wednesday to rally for a 35-28 victory over archrival Western Michigan at the Broncos' Waldo Stadium.
It was the first time as a coach that Bonamego, who is in his third year in charge of the Chippewa program, has led his team to victory over Western.
"I'm really at a loss for words," said Bonamego, a CMU walk-on in the mid 1980s who, perhaps as much as anybody involved, appreciates what the rivalry - and what beating Western -- means.
"I think I'm emotionally spent, worn out," he said. "I just told (my players) great job, I'm proud of them. I've never been more proud of a team in my life. They earned it. They went out and they showed their heart. They just laid it all out there and I'm really proud of them for that.
"It's an awesome thing to see when you have a team come together like that. The fight, the determination, the grit, and the will. They willed it."
Shane Morris connected with Corey Willis on a 77-yard touchdown pass play with 2:37 remaining to break a 28-28 tie and give CMU its first win over the Broncos since 2013. The Chippewas trailed, 28-14, entering the fourth quarter.
The Victory Cannon will now reside in the Chippewas' trophy case.
"The Cannon means so much and walking by and seeing it every day in the trophy case is going to be great," junior defensive lineman Nate Brisson-Fast said.
A tale of two halves
It was a classic tale of two halves as the Chippewas scratched and clawed to hold on in the first two quarters. They trailed 21-7 at the break.
Western Michigan outgained the Chippewas in total yardage, 269-82, in the first half as Jarvion Franklin ran for 157 first-half yards.
When the dust settled, CMU finished with a 409-357 edge in total yardage. Franklin finished with 228 yards and scored twice on 26 carries, but the Bronco pass game was silent and CMU forced four turnovers, three of them in the final two quarters.
Western freshman quarterback Reece Goddard, making his first start, completed 6-of-18 passes for 42 yards and was sacked three times.
"We just kind of settled down, got used to what they were doing," said Brisson-Fast, who recorded 2 ½ sacks. "It was just about pushing back, fighting back. Instead of getting pushed back, (it was) push them back. It was all about bringing the fight to them, doing what Central Michigan football does."
The Chippewas' fourth-quarter TDs came on a 29-yard Jonathan Ward run and two Shane Morris passes, a 9-yarder to Eric Cooper and the game-winner to Willis.
"I saw something I liked in the defense so I changed the play," Morris said of the final TD pass. "Wend Corey on a seem route versus a safety I knew he could beat. (Willis is) a special kid, made a great play on the ball.
"That's something you dream about as a kid - take the team down with two minutes (remaining) and win the game against the rival. I'm excited talking about it. It was an awesome experience for me.
"It's a huge testament to the seniors, the offensive line, the defense and those guys just staying strong no matter what. It was cold, it was raining, it was not the best circumstances - we were down 14 at one point. To be able to come back and win that game, it was awesome."
Morris, a graduate transfer from Michigan, completed 12 of 30 pass attempts for 243 yards.
Willis wore the coveted No. 21 jersey during Wednesday's game in honor of the late Derrick Nash. The jersey rotates to a different player every week, a tradition that began in the 2015 season after Nash's death.
"I've been waiting to wear that jersey my whole career," said Willis, a fifth-year senior. "It was huge. D Nash caught that ball. When that ball got thrown I was like, `There's no way I'm getting to that.' D Nash kicked me into an extra gear. I know he's looking down from above."
Willis finished with five catches for a career-high 148 yards.
The Chippewas were without a major force on defense as end Joe Ostman sat out with an injury. Ostman, a senior captain, entered the week with a MAC-leading 10 sacks.
"It hurts," said Brisson-Fast, one of several players who picked up the slack along the defensive front. "Joey is a fantastic player. I've always looked up to him. He's kind of the guy you want to be when you step on campus. Joe Ostman, he works hard, he's known for working hard, and you see the results.
"When I went out there to play, essentially at his position, it was `I've got to live up to that Joe Ostman name.' I told him after the game it was all for him. Not being able to play in this game, his last go around (against Western), I can't imagine what that feels like. I had to do my best to honor his name."
Ironically, Ostman, a fifth-year senior, is the only current Chippewa to have played in the game the last time CMU defeated Western, a 27-22 triumph in Kalamazoo in 2013.
Ward turned in his best game as a Chippewa, finishing with 213 all-purpose yards. He carried 17 times for 132 yards and a touchdown, and caught four passes for 81 yards.
He had 151 of yards in the second half.
"He's a determined runner," Bonamego said. "He's an unbelievable kid, a fierce competitor. He got hurt in this game a year ago and it cost him a good portion of the rest of the season last year. He always plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, which is good. He's got a little bit of an edge to him. He's a very skilled guy.
"Sometimes the timing finds you and today was Jonathan's day to shine."
Western Michigan features one of the nation's best kick-return men in Darius Phillips, but the Chippewas contained him on Wednesday.
Chippewa punter Jack Sheldon punted nine times for a 44.2-yard average with a long of 60. Three of his punts were downed inside the Broncos' 20-yard line.
Phillips returned two punts for minus-4 yards, and three kickoffs for 72 yards with a long of 31.
After the Chippewas scored the go-ahead touchdown, there was still plenty of time remaining and with Phillips back deep to return the kickoff, nobody in maroon and gold could breathe easy.
Phillips took Kaden Keon's kick at the Western 1-yard line, but a big hit by CMU's Alonzo McCoy brought him down at the 21.
"That kid's a special kid," said Bonamego, who coached special teams in the NFL for 16 years before returning to his alma mater in 2015. "He's an outstanding returner, best one I've seen in a while. I think he's got a future playing on Sundays as a return man. He's really special, he's done it against some really good people."
Safety Josh Cox led the Chippewas with nine tackles, while end Mitch Stanitzek and safety Darwyn Kelly had seven each.
Cornerback Sean Bunting recorded an interception, while Stanitzek, Kelly and Trevor Apsey each recovered a fumble.