Western Michigan, Western Kentucky set for First Responder Bowl

NCAA Football
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Western Michigan has had to live with a 17-14 loss at Northern Illinois since Nov. 26, when it frittered away a chance to play for the Mid-American Conference title.

The Broncos get the opportunity to rinse that bitter taste from their mouths Monday when they meet Western Kentucky in the First Responder Bowl at Ford Stadium in Dallas.

It will also give Western Michigan (7-5) the chance to improve on a putrid 1-8 bowl record that includes last year’s 49-18 thumping at BYU’s hands in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Its only bowl victory occurred in 2015, a 45-31 decision over Middle Tennessee State in the Bahamas Bowl.

“We have a chance to play one more,” Broncos coach Tim Lester said. “We have to get better. I have to get better. The coaches have to get better. The greatest thing is we have another chance this year to send our seniors out the right way. It all ends with one last game in Dallas. We’re excited to head there.”

Western Michigan will be led by the MAC’s offensive and defensive players of the year. Running back LeVante Bellamy has 1,412 rushing yards and is tied for the national lead with 23 rushing touchdowns. Linebacker Treshaun Hayward has made 132 tackles, including 10 1/2 for loss and five sacks.

Quarterback Jon Wassink was a third-team All-MAC selection, throwing for 2,904 yards, with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers (8-4) can triple their win total from last year with a victory on Monday. First-year coach Tyson Helton has turned things around from a 3-9 record in 2018, guiding the program to its sixth bowl appearance in eight years.

Western Kentucky has won its past three games, including a 45-19 victory over Arkansas.

“Western Michigan is a good football team and I expect this to be a battle,” said Helton, the younger brother of USC head coach Clay Helton. “I think we’re at a good point right now. We’ve had a good last two weeks of practice. I expect this to be decided in the last five minutes.”

Western Kentucky’s offense is led by running back Gaej Walker, who collected 1,115 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging nearly five yards per carry. Quarterback Ty Storey — who started nine games at Arkansas last season before transferring — has completed 70.7 percent of his 294 passes for 2,209 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Junior defensive end DeAngelo Malone is the man to watch defensively with 90 tackles, including 21 for loss and 11 1/2 sacks. He also has been credited with 16 quarterback hurries. Malone’s presence helped the Hilltoppers lead Conference USA in scoring defense (20.1 points per game) and post a 6-2 record in league games.

This will be the 16th meeting between the programs, but their first since 1947. Western Kentucky is 3-2 in FBS bowl games.

–Field Level Media

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