Star receiver Corey Davis delivers for Western

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Corey Davis came back for his senior year at Western Michigan to play in front of packed houses at Waldo Stadium, to make big plays and help the Broncos earn their first Mid-American Conference championship since 1988.

Davis showed his skills Saturday night to lead the Broncos (6-0, 2-0) to a 45-30 win over six-time defending MAC West division champion Northern Illinois in front of nearly 30,000 fans.

Now the Broncos, who cracked the Associated Press rankings (No. 24) for the first time in school history, will play at Akron (4-2, 2-0 East) Saturday in what could be a preview of the MAC championship game Dec. 2 at Ford Field.

The Broncos have come a long way from a 1-11 season in P.J. Fleck’s first year in 2013 and the same can be said of Terry Bowden at Akron, where he took over a 1-11 program in 2012 and guided the Zips to their first bowl win last season.

WMU has won 13 of their last 15 games dating to last season and are on an eight-game winning streak. The Broncos’ 6-0 start is their best start since 1941. They are the lone team in FBS to not commit a turnover this season.

Western Michigan's success garners national spotlight

So, just how good was Davis? He made a one-handed grab in the right corner of the end zone for an 8-yard TD for a 31-23 lead late in the third quarter, and that became the No. 1 play on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Still, Davis’ most impressive grab may have been in the fourth quarter after Northern Illinois pulled within 38-30 and the Broncos were forced to start their drive from the WMU 14.

Davis hauled in Zach Terrell’s 56-yard pass down the left sideline, wrestling the ball away from a Northern Illinois defender and advancing to the 30 to set up the Broncos’ final TD, snapping a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry.

Fleck wanted Davis to come back for his final season stronger so he could get more 50-50 balls. Davis gained nearly 15 pounds of muscle and is now playing at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds.

“Corey gets exactly what he deserves,” said Fleck of Davis. “The kid stays 30 to 40 minutes after every single practice and works on things he knows he needs to work on and finds a way to become more elite than he was yesterday.

“He’s getting better every single week. It’s a credit to Kirk Ciarrocca, our offensive coordinator, and our wide receiver coach Matt Simon for really giving him the ability and chances to make the plays he has because he’s seeing double and triple coverage. To be able to get him the ball and call the right play at the right time, that’s very difficult.”

Davis could have left for the NFL after a junior year in which he had 90 receptions for 1,436 yards and 12 TDs. He has 36 receptions for 589 yards and a nation-leading eight TD this season, giving him 41 career TDs to break the former WMU record held by Greg Jennings, who went on to play for the Packers and Vikings.

Davis leads all current FBS players with 4,374 receiving yards and is just 632 yards from owning the career record held by Nevada’s Trevor Insley (1996-99).

And while Davis is much stronger than a year ago, senior quarterback Zach Terrell showed his toughness after a collision near the goal line in the first half.

On third-and-goal at the 4 early in the second quarter, Terrell ran to the 1 where he was hit hard, fumbling the ball, but then falling on it. He remained on the field for several minutes with trainers and the WMU medical looking him over.

“Our medical staff came out to him and it wasn’t his head, it was his tongue and he kind of almost bit through his mouthpiece and bit his tongue, and that is what the concern was,” Fleck said of Terrell. “Then, he comes back in the second half and was lights out, made incredible decisions and played probably better than he has all year. It’s a credit to his toughness.”

Terrell finished 18-of-24 for 327 yards and three TDs, including 9-of-10 during the second half for 190 yards and a TD. He has completed 71.1 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 1,390 yards and 15 TDs without an interception.

WMU showed a balanced offensive attack with junior running back Jarvion Franklin – the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 – accounting for 249 all-purpose yards, rushing for 169 yards and a TD and also scoring on a 32-yard TD pass.