Western Michigan is 5-0 after trouncing Central

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Mount Pleasant, Mich. — Despite the 4-0 start, despite the two wins against Big Ten teams, despite fun mentions on "SportsCenter" and increasing national attention, earlier in the week, Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck insisted his team had a whole heck of a lot to improve upon.

Well, it can't get much better than Saturday night, can it?

The Broncos played a seemingly flawless game in rolling over heated rival Central Michigan, 49-10, before a crowd of 30,401 that was raucous at kickoff, but mostly had filed out of Kelly/Shorts Stadium by the start of the fourth quarter on a windy, rainy, chilly evening.

With the win in the Mid-American Conference opener for both teams, Western Michigan is 5-0 for the first time since 1994 — and it could very well find itself in the Associated Press Top 25 with a couple more wins, if not by Sunday.

"I wouldn't necessarily say it was surprising," WMU linebacker Keion Adams said, when asked if he could have seen this kind of rout coming — the most-lopsided game in the rivalry since 1970, when the Broncos beat the Chippewas, 41-0.

"We have something special on this team, and every guy that we have on this team contributes in a role.

"And we just go out there and row the boat, like Coach Fleck says."

BOX SCORE: Western Michigan 49, Central Michigan 10

When Fleck brought that "Row the Boat" catch phrase to WMU, he was talking about a humble row boat, with oars and all.

These days, WMU is looking more like a big, bad yacht.

Just consider this: With Maryland throwing an interception and losing a fumble Saturday, Western Michigan remains the lone Division I school in the country that has yet to commit a turnover this season. It's now plus-nine in turnover margin this year, with two more takeaways Saturday.

Both were huge daggers to Central Michigan, especially an 86-yard interception return for a touchdown by Darius Phillips in the third quarter that all but sealed this one. That made it 35-3, just as it looked like the Chippewas — a strong second-half team this season who came back from 14 down to beat then-No. 22 Oklahoma State and who came back from 28 down to tie Virginia before eventually losing — might be starting to mount another one of their comebacks.

Phillips, a receiver as a freshman who switched to defense despite his objections last season, had a 70-yard interception return for a TD last week.

"He made a good play, jumped it," CMU quarterback Cooper Rush said. "And we miscommunicated, too."

The other takeaway came about halfway through the second quarter, when Rush — pressured all day, to the tune of seven sacks — was blindsided by a hit from Eric Assoua. The ball popped loose, where Adams was waiting and grabbed it.

Western Michigan running back Davon Tucker (22) carries the ball as Central Michigan linebacker Alex Briones (30) attempts to tackle him during the first half.

Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell then quickly found senior receiver Corey Davis for a 9-yard pass -- which made Davis the all-time receiving-yards leader in MAC history. Then, on the next play, Jarvion Franklin, who became lead rusher on the day after Jamauri Bogan left with an ankle injury, scampered 34 yards for a Broncos touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

Franklin added a 1-yard score just before the half to make it 21-3.

Central Michigan (3-2) tried to catch Western off-guard to start the second half, trying an onside kick and recovering it. But it was ruled the kick didn't travel far enough, setting the Broncos up with excellent field position.

WMU quarterback Zach Terrell took advantage on the first play, firing a bomb to Davis, who made an absolute gem of a catch with a CMU defender hanging all over him — and a flag thrown for defensive pass interference. Davis leaped up and grabbed it anyway, then sprinted to the end zone for a 45-yard TD catch.

"Just went up and trusted my technique, trusted my fundamentals, and snagged it," Davis said with a wide smile. "Nothing to it."

That's a modest statement from a guy with modest beginnings in this game.

A senior from Wheaton, Illinois, he had no offers out of high school, and Fleck and his staff spent three weeks getting to know him before deciding to make him an offer. He's become the face of Fleck's tenure at WMU, mirroring the program's rags-to-riches story.

With 72 receiving yards, Davis now has 4,252 for his career, a MAC record.

He added a 4-yard touchdown catch late in the game, giving him 39 for his career, tying Greg Jennings for most in program history. He also surpassed the total his brother, Titus, had when he played at CMU.

"One of the most incredible stories you'll ever want to hear," Fleck said. "It's a credit to him, because he's had to put in all the work.

"I hope the Mid-American Conference and Kalamazoo really enjoy him for the while they have him, because he's a special guy that doesn't come around very often."

Terrell finished 15-for-21 for 170 yards and three touchdown passes, the other one a 6-yarder to Michael Henry late in the first quarter that finally got the offense jump-started, after some early stalls.

Franklin rushed for 133 yards and the two scores on 23 carries.

Bogan, who had rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the season's first four games, departed in the first quarter and didn't return.

"That wasn't somebody just stepping and getting his shot," Fleck said. "Jarvion is a proven back. He's gotten better and better.

"He looked like Jarvian that I know how Jarvian can look."

Rush was under immense pressure all day long, and finished 17-for-29 for 178 yards and one touchdown — a 37-yard pass to Mark Chapman in the third quarter, with the game already out of reach, and the crowd, the second-largest in stadium history behind the Michigan State game in 2012, mostly off and into the night.

Chapman had four catches for 70 yards, and Corey Willis had seven for 68 yards.

The game started promisingly for the Chippewas, who saw Brian Eavey — 1-for-5 on field goals coming in — drill a 45-yarder for a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. But after that, Terrell found his groove, and the Broncos scored 35 unanswered points, the Chippewas were toast.

The Broncos got their final score with a lengthy, clock-eating drive that saw Fabian Johnson bust out a 42-yard run, followed by his 3-yarder for the score.

"You can quote me on this," said CMU coach John Bonamego, a tonsil-cancer survivor. "I would rather go through eight weeks of chemotherapy radiation again than lose to that team the way we lost tonight. That's the truth to how I feel."

Later, he added, "I apologize for the way we performed tonight."

Western Michigan has won three straight in the rivalry for the first time since 2001-03.

WMU hosts Northern Illinois (1-4, 0-1) next Saturday, in another night game with a 6:30 kickoff.

CMU will try to end its two-game skid when it hosts Ball State (3-2, 0-1) next Saturday, starting at 3:30.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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