#33: 2011 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl — Western Michigan @ Purdue in NCAA Football 12

To begin my entries for STAT BOX STORIES this week—the first of two weeks dedicated entirely to NCAA Football 12 and the BOWL BLITZ INVITATIONAL project—I was faced with the prospect of playing the 2011 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, hosted annually at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  This year’s game features a Michigan-based school—the Western Michigan Broncos—taking on the Purdue Boilermakers of the Big Ten Conference.

For me, this is something of a personal connection to the team’s in this Bowl Game match-up; my mother- and father-in-law are both alumni from Western Michigan.  With that background in mind—and the fact that the Broncos are at a ratings disadvantage in NCAA Football 12—I decided to lace up in the brown and gold to try and continue my unbeaten record so far in college football games played for STAT BOX STORIES.

Purdue received the opening kickoff and had a solid return before eventually settling for a 31-yard field goal after their drive stalled out.  On my first offensive possession with the Broncos, I faced 4th-and-3 just over the 50-yard-line.  Making a gutsy decision early in the game, I went for it and converted.  Later on in the drive, my halfback was able to run into the end zone from 9 yards out to take a 7-3 lead with just under a minute and a half left in the first quarter.

On their next possession, the Boilermakers went three-and-out and had to punt the ball away.  Western Michigan faced a 3rd-and-16 play on their following possession and converted the yardage—and then some—on a 75-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-3.

The 11-point deficit was short-lived, however, as Purdue scored on a long touchdown pass of their own the next drive; the 51-yard touchdown pass came on 3rd-and-12.

With the score 14-10, Western Michigan drove into what I thought was makeable field goal range, but I had a rare field goal miss from 46 yards out to bring my drive to a disappointing end.  This was the start of a series of unfortunate circumstances for the Broncos, as Purdue put together a quick drive to score on a 12-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 left in the first half and take a 17-14 lead.

Western Michigan faced a quick three-and-out and the ensuing punt was brought back onto WMU’s side of the field by Purdue to set them up in good position to score again before the half.  A long run by Purdue’s starting halfback set up a 14-yard touchdown rush for Purdue and a 24-14 lead with 40 seconds remaining.  With 28 seconds remaining, WMU threw an interception and Purdue was able to turn that turnover into 3 more points—and a 27-14 lead—after a 52-yard field goal conversion.

Having yielded 24 points in only a single quarter of play, I was reeling.  Thankfully, the kickoff return went 98 yards to the end zone for a touchdown and I was able to cut the deficit to 27-21 as time expired in the first half.

To begin the third quarter, I received the kickoff and orchestrated a drive which chewed up over four minutes to begin the second half.  The scoring play—a 19-yard touchdown pass—came on a play where the defense had been drawn offsides.  With a 28-27 lead, I was feeling good about my ability to come back from the disastrous second quarter.  Just over a minute later, Purdue was forced to settle for a long 57-yard field goal, allowing them to regain the lead, however.

With 5:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, a 4-yard run for the Broncos resulted in a touchdown and a 34-30 lead.  In an attempt to build a larger lead, I opted to go for a two-point conversion instead of kicking an extra point; thankfully, the pass to the flat was successful for a 36-30 lead.  Purdue’s next drive ended in a punt, but Western Michigan took a bad holding penalty and was forced to go three-and-out in response.  With just under a minute to go in the game, Purdue’s quarterback scrambled into the end zone, giving the Boilermakers a 37-36 lead.

With 52 seconds left to play, the goal was simple; drive into field goal range and try to win the game.  Unfortunately, a holding penalty followed by a sack at WMU’s own 2-yard-line forced the Broncos into a 3rd-and-28 situation.  Purdue’s defense knew the pass was coming, and they were able to intercept the ball in Broncos’ territory to essentially ice the game.  The Boilermakers added three more points as time expired on a 40-yard field goal just to rub it in.

All in all—even in a losing effort—this was definitely an entertaining game to play.  The momentum of the game definitely swung back-and-forth, with Western Michigan holding an 11-point lead early and Purdue holding a 13-point lead just before halftime.  The team statistics were very close as well, with the numbers nearly identical on each side.  However, Purdue forced two WMU turnovers while the Boilermakers protected the ball at all costs, which helped the Big Ten school take home the win.  The kick return game was definitely one aspect of the game won by the Broncos—with 273 total return yards—though it unfortunately didn’t help the school to victory.

From an individual player statistics view, there were solid games by running backs on each school.  WMU’s HB #29 racked up 136 yards, while Purdue’s HB #23 ran for 105 yards and a touchdown.  Receivers had solid games as well, with WMU’s WR #8 making one catch for 75 yards and a touchdown while the Boilermakers’ WR #4 gained 98 yards and a scoring catch.  Perhaps the most surprising individual performance was the missed field goal attempt by my WMU kicker, who had less leg than I anticipated when I lined up for the 46-yard field goal indoors.  Had his kick been good in the second quarter, Western Michigan could have been in position to win the game as time ran down in the fourth.

Today’s disappointment in a losing effort, however, spurs me on to try to bring my “A” game to the field tomorrow as I prepare to take on the 2011 Military Bowl between the Toledo Rockets and the Air Force Falcons.  Can I stop this losing streak at a single game and regain my pride in NCAA Football 12 play?  You won’t want to miss the action tomorrow here at STAT BOX STORIES!

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