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Sink the boat: Wisconsin ends Western Michigan’s undefeated season in Cotton Bowl

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Wisconsin caps a successful season with yet another bowl win.

Wisconsin sunk the boat.

The No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers defeated the No. 15 Western Michigan Broncos 24-16 in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Monday.

Tight end Troy Fumagalli caught six passes for 83 yards and one touchdown in a standout performance — earning the Cotton Bowl’s offensive most valuable player — with redshirt senior quarterback Bart Houston ending his collegiate career on top, completing 11 of 12 passes for 159 yards and guiding Wisconsin (11-3) to three of its four scoring drives.

The Badgers gained 362 yards altogether (184 rushing, 178 receiving), averaged seven yards per play and converted seven of 11 third downs while holding Western Michigan (13-1) to only 4.7 yards per whistle.

A Broncos offense gaining nearly 497 yards each contest was held to only 280 yards (123 rushing, 157 passing) by defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s squad. WMU came in eighth in the nation in scoring offense at 43.5 points per game, and UW held them to their lowest output this season in that category.

Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards, once a Western Michigan commit, led the team in tackles with 10 and intercepted a key pass early in the fourth quarter. He was named the game’s most valuable player on defense. Redshirt senior safety Leo Musso recorded nine tackles, with fellow safety D’Cota Dixon registering seven.

Western Michigan stayed in the game throughout despite an early lead for Wisconsin, but an onside kick attempt and two first downs on the Badgers’ final offensive drive sealed the eight-point win.

Wisconsin took a 17-7 lead into halftime, with its offense rolling in three of its four series with Houston at the helm. The Badgers out-gained the Broncos 245-114, picking up 156 on the ground (WMU came into the game allowing 151.2).

Wisconsin started off hot on its first drive, with nine of its 11 plays being runs. Seventy-five plays later—and with the help of a spectacular one-handed catch by tight end Troy Fumagalli—Corey Clement scored from two yards out to give the Badgers a 7-0 lead. Clement gained 42 yards on 11 carries through two quarters and finished the game with 71 on 22 attempts.

After stopping Western Michigan on its first series, Wisconsin continued its early dominance. Running back Dare Ogunbowale accounted for 45 all-purpose offensive yards on a seven-play, 88-yard drive that ended with the senior’s one-yard run to give the Badgers a two-touchdown advantage.

Western Michigan fought back in the second quarter, taking 8:46 off the clock with a 16-play, 65-yard drive culminating in a Zach Terrell two-yard bootleg for a touchdown. That cut the lead to 14-7. Terrell finished the game 16-of-28 for 157 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Badgers answered back with a nine-play, 63-yard series with the help of a 51-yard jet sweep from redshirt junior Jazz Peavy. Houston completed five of six passes for 78 yards in the first two quarters and led the offense on all three of its scoring drives, and threaded the needle to Fumagalli in the back of the end zone, but the former walk-on dropped it. Andrew Endicott tacked on a 30-yard field goal to put Wisconsin up 10 points.

The Broncos’ 11-play, 65-yard drive to start the second half ended with a Butch Hampton 27-yard field goal to close the gap to a 17-10 Badgers lead, but a key turnover in the Badgers’ favor early in the fourth quarter led to a much-needed touchdown.

Edwards intercepted a Terrell pass at the Western Michigan 12-yard line. Three plays later, redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook found Fumagalli for a leaping eight-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. This time, the former walk-on held on to give the Badgers a 24-10 lead with over 12 minutes left in the game. Hornibrook and Houston ended the afternoon 13-of-14 for 178 yards, the model of efficiency and turnover-free football the Badgers needed to play against a Broncos program that came into the game leading the country in turnover margin (plus-19).

P.J. Fleck’s squad wouldn’t give up without a fight, however. A nearly nine-minute drive ended with a prayer of throw from a pressured Terrell to NFL-bound Corey Davis for an 11-yard touchdown pass over cornerback Sojourn Shelton. Davis, the FBS all-time leader in receiving yards, ended the afternoon with six catches for 73 yards and the one score, but was mostly contained by the Wisconsin secondary. The extra point was no good, which kept the Badgers’ lead at eight points.

With the onside kick heading out of bounds, the Badgers held the ball the last 3:27 with two critical first downs to ultimately run out the clock and secure the Cotton Bowl win. On a third-and-eight, Houston found Fumagalli once again for a 26-yard gain. Will 1:11 remaining, fullback Austin Ramesh ran for 10 yards on a third-and-six thereafter to put the game out of reach.

Wisconsin now has won its third consecutive bowl game, with this senior class winning its 41st game, the most for a class in program history.