Tim Lester will definitely remember his first road win as head coach of Western Michigan.
And, Lester had to wait and wait and wait some more before finally earning it when the Broncos defeated Buffalo Saturday afternoon — well, Saturday night — with a 71-68, seven-OT victory over the Bulls.
The marathon matched a record, bringing back memories of Arkansas’ 58-56 win over Ole Miss and Eli Manning in the seven-OT thriller in 2001.
The combined points (139) set an FBS record. The teams combined for 1,328 total yards with the Broncos piling up 645, including 376 on the ground on 68 attempts. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jon Wassink completed 23-of-29 passes for 256 yards with five TDs and one interception.
The game lasted nearly five hours and had a little of everything, including the sister of WMU senior All-MAC tight end Donnie Ernsberger joining in the celebration after Ernsberger caught a 14-yard TD reception in the opening OT to pull the Broncos even at 38 following the PAT.
Yes, Ernsberger’s sister was escorted off the field by security.
It was WMU’s fourth straight win, and it has averaged 53 points and 454 total yards during the streak. The Broncos (4-2, 2-0) will host Akron Saturday on Homecoming.
“I didn’t even know it was seven because you just keep going and talking to whoever’s turn it is,” Lester said. “I kept talking to the coaches, saying to try and act like it’s the first quarter, and then they (players) get frustrated because we had so many opportunities, two different kicks to end the game and we couldn’t do it, then 2-point plays to end the game and we couldn’t do it. We just kept trying to stay positive with them and acting like it was the first quarter.
“They just kept battling and I’m so proud of them. I had no clue it was seven overtimes. Someone said it’s the longest game in NCAA history which is crazy.”
The Broncos had a chance to end the game late in regulation, but Josh Grant’s 52-yard attempt was wide left.
The Broncos recovered a fumble in the third OT, but Grant misfired on a 29-yard try.
WMU’s failure to put the game away brought back memories of the Broncos’ 60-57, five-OT loss to Ball State and Brady Hoke in Bill Cubit’s first season as head coach in 2005 with Lester as an assistant coach. The Broncos held Ball State in one of the earlier OTs, but failed to close out the victory when they missed a field goal.
But Saturday, WMU senior running back Jarvion Franklin wouldn’t let history repeat itself.
The marathon victory was just another big win in a long list of memories for Franklin, who was MAC Offensive Player of the Year his freshman season when he ran for 1,551 yards and 24 TDs, then helped the Broncos win the MAC championship last season.
Franklin had 74 yards rushing on 15 carries through the 31-31 regulation, then carried the load for the Broncos in the OTs with 22 carries for 102 yards and 3 TDs, including the winning, 12-yard run after Buffalo took a 68-65 lead with a field goal.
On one run in the sixth OT, Franklin was stopped near the 25, but busted loose and ran for 19 yards to the 6.
“First off, you have to battle with yourself because your body is tired, you train for 60 minutes and when you get into overtime you’re not sure what’s going to give, but one thing we hang our hat on is being mentally tough so we didn’t care if we had to play all night,” Franklin said. “My body was tired, but I knew when my team needed me and the offense that we’d answer the bell. We just trusted the scheme.”
And, on that 19-yard run when he was trapped at the line of scrimmage?
“Last week I had to do a report on Walter Payton and I knew a lot about him, but something I dove in about him was how he really hung his hat on never dying easy, you know getting tackled by the first person or going out of bounds so that was one of those moments where I just knew I wasn’t about to go out of bounds. I knew I wasn’t ready to get tackled.”
So did senior cornerback Darius Phillips when he absolutely needed to make a big play. Buffalo quarterback Drew Anderson threw for 597 yards and seven TDs without an interception, but Phillips stripped the ball from a Bulls receiver on a 2-point conversion in one of the OTs to keep the game alive.
No doubt, the Broncos had reason to celebrate. But, what about Ernsberger’s sister joining the party?
“When I looked at the young lady running on the field, I thought, ‘Girl you’re crazy,’ ” Franklin said. “I wasn’t mad at her because that was a critical part of the game and she just took advantage of her moment.”