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Troy Fumagalli’s breakout performances bookend 2016 season

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Wisconsin’s tight end collected 13 receptions between the Badgers’ season opener and bowl win, 10 of which gave them a fresh set of downs.

The saying, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” often applies to sports and to life in general. However, Troy Fumagalli proved Monday that how you start and how you finish a season can change its final outlook completely.

The junior tight end for the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers was the driving offensive force in two of UW’s biggest wins during the 2016 season: its first and its last.

Fumagalli turned in one of Wisconsin’s two 100-yard receiving performances in the opening game of the season, when the Badgers defeated the No. 5 LSU Tigers 16-14. Fumagalli hauled in seven receptions for an even 100 yards and his first six receptions. all went for first downs. His final reception moved the Badgers into field-goal range, which led to the eventual 47-yard, game-winning kick.

Almost four months to the date, the junior put up another game-changing performance Monday against No. 15 Western Michigan in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The Badgers (11-3) went on to defeat the Broncos (13-1) 24-16.

Fumagalli caught six catches for 83 yards and one score in the victory, garnering offensive MVP honors.

During Wisconsin’s opening drive, with the Badgers facing a third-and-13, Bart Houston found Fumagalli 20 yards downfield, where he made a miraculous one-handed (and four-fingered) catch despite being held by the defender. The play moved the Badgers down to the 12-yard line.

Three plays later, Corey Clement took a hand-off into the end zone for Wisconsin’s first score of the game. Clement finished his final game in cardinal and white with 22 carries for 71 yards and one touchdown.

In the waning moments of the first half, Houston looked to Fumagalli once more on third down in the back of the end zone, but he was unable to handle the pass and the Badgers would have to settle for a field goal.

Houston finished 11-of-12 for 159 yards. His only incompletion? Fumagalli’s drop.

However, the junior would have a chance to redeem himself in the fourth quarter with Wisconsin up 17-10 following a T.J. Edwards interception, only the fourth of the year thrown by Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell.

Edwards earned defensive MVP honors in the game for his interception and team-leading 10 tackles.

The takeaway gave Wisconsin great starting field position on the Western Michigan 12-yard line. Alex Hornibrook then found Fumagalli in the back of the end zone, between two defenders, on third-and-6 for an eight-yard touchdown, his second score of the season. Following the extra point, Wisconsin was up 24-10.

Following the touchdown, Western Michigan went on nearly a nine-minute scoring drive to bring the game within a single score at 24-16 following a missed extra point.

The ensuing onside kick harmlessly ended up out of bounds despite Jazz Peavy being unable to corral it, allowing Wisconsin to take over with 3:27 left in the game on the Broncos’ 48-yard line nursing an eight-point lead.

Following back-to-back Clement runs, Wisconsin found itself in familiar territory, looking at third-and-8, essentially with the game on the line, with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter.

Once again, Houston looked to Fumagalli and connected on a game-saving, 26-yard completion to help Wisconsin move the chains for a fresh set of downs. Three plays later, Houston and the Badgers went into victory formation to cap off the victory.

Between Wisconsin’s 2016 season opener and Monday’s bowl game, Fumagalli combined for 13 receptions, 183 yards and one touchdown. Over the 12 games in between those two, Fumagalli recorded 34 receptions for 397 yards and one touchdown, averaging 2.8 receptions per game and 33.1 yards per game.

All-in-all, the junior hauled in 47 receptions for 580 yards and two touchdowns in 2016. Given his recent trajectory and improved year-over-year performance, Fumagalli could be in store for quite the season in 2017.