Nassau, Bahamas — Considering that Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck has made "Row the Boat" a team motto, it's only fitting the Broncos had to reach the Bahamas to finally win a bowl game.
Jamauri Bogan ran for 215 yards and four touchdowns, powering Western Michigan past Middle Tennessee 45-31 on Thursday in the Bahamas Bowl for its first bowl victory. The Broncos had lost their previous six bowl games.
"This was what 'Row the Boat' was all about," Fleck said. "This is why it was invented. This is what it was for. There were all types of adversity in this football game that our kids could have given up, could have quit, could have folded. Two years ago, we probably would have. Last year, we'd probably have done it some of the time. This year? No way."
This latest achievement comes after Western Michigan closed the regular season by beating a Toledo team that was ranked 24th at the time for the Broncos' first win over a Top 25 team.
Western Michigan (8-5) also has consecutive eight-win seasons for the first time in school history after going 1-11 in 2013 during Fleck's first year. The Broncos accomplished that while facing a schedule that includedMichigan State and Ohio State.
"They are better people than they are players," Fleck said. "They're incredible. I'm just proud I get to coach them. I'm the luckiest coach in America."
Bogan broke a tie with a 1-yard touchdown run with 6:12 left, setting up the score with a 61-yard burst. He had another 1-yard scoring run with 5 minutes remaining after Rontavious Atkins' 29-yard interception return to the 4. Bogan also had 62- and 46-yard touchdown runs. He averaged 11.3 yards per carry.
"There's no better feeling," Bogan said. "Coach told us it was going to be an amazing feeling, and I think it exceeds that."
Zach Terrell was 18 of 26 for 297 yards and two touchdowns. Corey Davis had eight catches for 183 yards and a touchdown, and Daniel Braverman added five receptions for 101 yards and a score.
Richie James had eight catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns and added a scoring run for Middle Tennessee (7-6). Brent Stockstill threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Stockstill was 26 of 39 and finished the season with 327 completions to break the NCAA freshman record of 321 set by Jared Lorenzen for Kentucky in 2001.
One year after Western Kentucky and Central Michigan combined for 12 touchdown passes in the inaugural Bahamas Bowl — a 49-48 Western Kentucky victory — Western Michigan and Middle Tennessee produced a similar shootout featuring six touchdowns of 40-plus yards. The game already was tied 17-all by the end of the first quarter.
After a scoreless second period, the big plays resumed.
Bogan gave Western Michigan its first lead with the 46-yard run on the opening drive of the second half. Middle Tennessee tied it when Christian Collis turned a short completion into a 17-yard touchdown play with 18 seconds left in the third period.
Western Michigan went back in front when Braverman caught a pass about 15 yards downfield and raced along the right sideline for a 68-yard scoring strike with 12:47 left. Middle Tennessee tied it again with 9:41 left on Stockstill's 29-yard pass to James.
But when Bogan scored twice more in the fourth quarter, Middle Tennessee couldn't respond.
"(Our) keys coming into the game were stopping the run and limiting the big plays, and we weren't able to do either one of those," Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. "I really thought that was the difference in the game."
Middle Tennessee also failed to capitalize on a couple of early opportunities. With the score 17-17 in the second quarter, Middle Tennessee's Shane Tucker was stuffed by Grant DePalma and Austin Lewis on fourth-and-goal from the 1. On Middle Tennessee's next series, a holding penalty nullified an 85-yard touchdown completion from Stockstill to Collis.