WMU's Tim Lester had fake-spike call in playbook for 20 years; it finally paid off

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Kaleb Eleby secured his name in Western Michigan football history, leading the Broncos to a dramatic 41-38 win over Toledo on Wednesday night — OK, early Thursday morning — at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.

There were no fans, but there was a national television audience.

The Broncos trailed all game until the final seconds. Toledo’s win probability was at 99.9% with the Rockets holding a 38-28 lead with two minutes, 5 seconds left.

Western Michigan's Kaleb Eleby celebrates during the Broncos' stunning win over Toledo.

Eleby, a redshirt sophomore, helped the Broncos (2-0) score two TDs in the final 45 seconds, capped off by an unbelievable fake spike leading to a winning 9-yard TD pass to Jaylen Hall (Macomb Dakota) for the difference with 17 seconds left.

“It was called in, shout-out to Coach Lester,” said Eleby, crediting Western's fourth-year head coach, Tim Lester, for the winning play call. “It was a great play. We practice that, I think the coaches do a good job of preparing us for these situations. It’s not often that these situations happen, but preparation is definitely the key and when the opportunity presented itself, we took it.”

The Broncos needed the touchdown since they missed a point-after following Eleby’s 1-yard TD run with 45 seconds remaining.

The Broncos needed things to go their way with an onside kick recovery, as well. Thiago Kapps, who missed the PAT, made the perfect onside kick, up the middle, that a Toledo player failed to pounce on as it reached the needed 10-yard distance, leading Western punter Nick Mihalic to grab the ball at the Broncos’ 49.

Then Eleby went to work, finding running back Sean Tyler for passes of 11 and 13 yards with Tyler grabbing the passes over the middle and then running left to get out of bounds. That set the stage for Eleby’s 18-yard toss over the middle to D’Wayne Eskridge, who used his 4.33 speed, to get to the Toledo 9.

Then things got magical. Eskridge got up after the catch and his teammates quickly ran to the line — Hall ran from near the right sideline to line up wide left — and Eleby faked to spike the ball, instead tossing the ball to a wide-open Hall in the end zone.

The fake spike and TD toss ended Western's three-game losing streak against the Rockets.

“Things didn’t look so good at the end, but we made a promise to each other to keep fighting,” said Eleby, who completed 9 of 16 passes for 168 yards and two TDs before the final two drives, including a 47-yard scoring strike to Eskridge and a 16-yard TD toss to Skyy Moore. Eleby then hit on 11 of 13 for 116 yards and the TD pass to Hall to close out the game.

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“I think we had a great job all around. I want (to credit) my offensive line, giving me time back there for the check downs, Sean Tyler coming out of the backfield, he probably had six catches in a roll and getting out of bounds. I just want to say it was a great team win.”

Before the final two drives, Toledo had the ball for 38 minutes and 15 seconds and picked up 501 total yards, running 40 more plays than Western (82-42).

Tyler, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound sophomore who replaced MAC offensive player of the year LeVante Bellamy, rushed for 100 yards (12 carries) and caught eight passes for 47 yards with seven of his receptions coming during the final two drives.

“Sean Tyler did a great of understanding the situation,” Eleby said. “They were in a prevent defense, obviously trying to play the end of the game and I just took what the defense gave me. They kept leaving the check down, kept taking it, kept taking it, kept taking it and eventually we made a play and went from there.

“Toledo is a great ball team. You can see I got busted up. They’re disciplined, very well coached and I think that showed on that 99-yard drive they had, that was amazing to see. But, just keep fighting, put your head down and you don’t worry about the scoreboard, just let the rest take care of itself.”

Toledo had a 13-play, 99-yard drive to open up a 31-21 lead late in the third quarter. Western cornerback Patrick Lupro looked like he made an interception in the end zone, but instead was called for pass interference and Micah Kelly scored on a 2-yard run on the next play.

Western's defense also looked like it held the Rockets short on a fourth-and-11 play, but officials ruled that Bryant Koback picked up the first down by inches at the 4, and Koback followed with a TD run on the next play for a 38-28 lead with 2:54 remaining.

“Our guys fought,” Lester said. “We can get so much better. We made some mistakes, had ups and downs, had to overcome penalties, but we just kept fighting. They did a great job of fighting. That last two drives were impressive, to watch a young quarterback like Kaleb handle himself in that situation, that’s rare.

“I don’t call a ton of plays anymore, but I call all two-minute drills, so I called a ton of plays today which was a lot of fun. I was just proud of the way they fought. Thiago missed that extra point and I was losing my mind, then he executed it (onside kick) beautifully.

“We got the job done. We played a sixty-minute game and overcame a lot, so to win a game that we didn’t play great is a big thing.”

And that the winning play?

“I’ve had that play (in playbook) for 20 years,” Lester said. “We practice it every day. We have two different types of plays like that. One is supposed to look like spike it and a pass and one supposed to be a true spike it. I told them at the beginning of the drive if it came up that I was going to use it. I just reminded him (Eleby) of some of the key points, but we run that play every week.

"Like I said, I have not in 20 years of coaching called it. Well, I did call it one other time, but the D coordinator called timeout and it was going to work too, so to see them execute that I was just proud of them.

“I was more proud of the way they executed against that drop eight, three deep, five under. The young kid (Eleby) went check, check down, check down, weak. The Will linebacker started to get aggressive and I came right back with a dig to D (Eskridge) behind it, knowing that eventually that guy was going to jump on Sean Tyler. It was a real impressive game by him, the last couple of minutes, to have the patience with no time outs and move the ball and then hit the dig over the middle. We can get a lot better, but the way he handled himself was impressive.”

Western visits defending MAC West champion and rival Central Michigan (2-0) on Wednesday.