West Lafayette, Ind. — A month ago Purdue senior Frankie Williams changed positions, moving from cornerback to strong safety. On Saturday, Williams changed the complexion of the Boilermakers’ season-opening game against Western Michigan.
Williams produced three big plays — an interception return and two punt returns — to set up 17 points and Purdue snapped a 12-game losing streak against FBS competition Saturday with a 43-34 victory over Western Michigan.
Two touchdown runs by Jarvion Franklin, a 17-year old freshman, gave the Broncos a 14-10 lead in the second-quarter, but the Boilermakers, 1-11 in 2013, scored the final 13 points in the first half and never trailed again in the season opener. Purdue had not beaten an FBS opponent since defeating Indiana on Nov. 24, 2012.
Williams’ 56-yard interception return in the second quarter set up quarterback Danny Etling’s 4-yard touchdown run that gave the Boilermakers the lead for good, 20-14 with 5:16 remaining in the first half. They ended an overall losing streak of 10 games.
Williams’ 27-yard punt return set up a 44-yard field goal by Paul Griggs that extended the Purdue lead to 23-14 at halftime. His 36-yard punt return in the third period set up Etling’s 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Gabe Holmes, pushing the Boilermakers’ advantage to 37-21.
According to Williams, Boilermaker defensive coordinator Greg Hudson set laid the foundation for the strong safety’s big day.
“Coach Hudson always expresses to us, ‘Make the layup, make the layup,’ “ Williams said. “When a play comes to you, make it. I made a couple of plays to help the team and did what I had to do to help the team get a win.”
Purdue linebacker Sean Robinson said Williams’ interception prevented a potentially big play for Western Michigan.
“I was thinking about how grateful I am for Frankie, because that would have been on the linebackers if they would have caught that pass,” Robinson said. “Any time a player makes a play and gives the ball back to the offense, it’s huge.
“Obviously, the defense struggled some, but the offense stepped up and put points on the board.”
The 43 points are Purdue’s most in the 13 games it has played for coach Darrell Hazell. The Boilermakers scored 36 in last season’s loss at Indiana. In 2013, the Purdue defense allowed 42 points or more in 7 of the 12 games. Saturday was a bit of an improvement.
Hazell liked the production he got from Williams and from the offense.
“It’s all about the team, that is the bottom line,” Hazell said. “If we can continue to play together, which we will, and continue to get better, we will be a good football team.”
The Broncos pulled to within 37-34 with 8:11 to play, but Akeem Hunt scored on a sweep of right end, covering 38 yards for the game-clinching score with 3:42 remaining.
Senior Raheem Mostert ran 22 times for a career-best 146 yards and an 11-yard TD in the third quarter touchdown for Purdue.
Griggs had three field goals, including a career-best 51-yarder that tied the sixth-best in school history.
Purdue, now 4-0 all-time against Western Michigan, got 226 rushing yards and 181 passing yards from Etling, who was neither intercepted nor sacked. The Boilermakers did not have a turnover. Etling, 0-7 as a starter in his freshman season, passed for two touchdowns and ran for another. He threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Justin Sinz and the 8-yarder to Holmes.
Franklin finished with 163 rushing yards for the Broncos, scoring on runs of 5, 61 and 26 yards.
Second-year coach P.J. Fleck liked the Western Michigan effort but not the result.
“We looked a lot better today than we did last season,” said Fleck, whose Broncos were 1-11 in 2013.
Fleck also said senior defensive back Donald Celiscar appeared to be okay after being knocked unconscious making a tackle with 3:40 left in the game. No other details were provided after the game.