Over the past four years, there has been a feeling that the West Michigan Broncos haven’t been able to get over the bump.
Well, maybe Saturday will be the day the Broncos can get rid of that notion.
Coach Tim Lester claimed his victory and the WMU traveled through Heinz Field on Saturday afternoon to beat the Pitt Panthers by a final score of 44-41.
Sophomore QB Kaleb Eleby was fantastic, battling injury and brutal temperature on the field to end the day 23 of 35 for 336 yards and 3 touchdowns. Pittsburgh native WR Skyy Moore had a career day in his hometown, posting 11 catches for 124 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
The Broncos had a promising start to the game, scoring 49 yards on nine games in their first practice. After the drive stalled just outside Pitt’s red zone, Parker Sampson missed a 43-yard field goal. It felt like a huge missed opportunity to set the tone, but the Broncos offense looked confident on the record.
After the teams traded punters on their next two possessions, the Broncos’ big-game vulnerability manifested itself again. In the first play of Pitt’s second practice of the game, Kenny Pickett found WR Jordan Addison on a deep post road for a 67-yard touchdown. It was the fourth 60-plus yardage the Broncos defense has allowed this year, certainly a troubling trend.
Fortunately for Western’s defense, their offense was there to take over. Eleby and company covered 75 yards in 10 plays in their ensuing practice, and Eleby’s 21-yard completion at Corey Crooms set up the run of a one-yard TD from RB Sean Tyler. on the next game.
The Broncos defense forced its first turn of the day in the next practice, as Kenny Pickett fumbled after running for 19 yards and a first down. Zaire Barnes recovered the fumble and gave possession to the West on Pitt’s 41-yard line.
The offense responded in kind, and Eleby found Jaylen Hall with a nice pass on the left sideline on the first play of the drive. This brought the Broncos to striking distance, and La’Darius Jefferson scored his first TD of the day with a one-in-four run.e and objective.
The Broncos defense stood up and stopped Pitt in fourth in their ensuing practice, giving the offense the ball on their own 40-yard line. Eleby got back to work and, on the sixth play of the drive, found Skyy Moore in the middle for a 30-yard touchdown. Western missed the extra point but still found himself ahead 20-7 in the second quarter.
Pitt responded quickly, going 75 yards in eight games. Pickett capped practice with his second touchdown throw of the day, this time a two-yard pass to TE Lucas Krull. The Panthers also missed their extra point, again making the margin seven.
After a three-and-out on the Broncos offense, the Panthers covered 71 yards in just three games to tie the game. Pickett found Jordan Addison for a 23-yard score to top the drive, their second TD connection of the day.
Needing an answer to dampen Pitt’s momentum, the Broncos offense could only muster a first try and was forced to kick again. This time, however, the defense bailed out the offense, as Kenny Pickett was sacked and fumbled in the first game of practice that followed. Zaire Barnes recorded his second fumble of the afternoon, and all of a sudden WMU was left with a first and a goal on Pitt’s eight-yard line.
Two games later, Eleby found Sean Tyler out of the backfield for a five-yard touchdown, and the Broncos were back ahead 27-20.
The West defense created their third first-half turnover in the next practice, as Pickett was selected and gave the ball to the Broncos at the WMU 45-yard line.
Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t capitalize and the Panthers equalized on the next possession, Pickett finding Addison for their third goal connection of the day to tie the game at 27-27 for the halftime tally. .
The second half got off to a slow start, as two Pitt three-and-outs were sandwiched around a stuck WMU drive. Both teams were trying to find their place, and it was as if the next team to strike was in control.
The Broncos did just that. In the second game of their next practice, Eleby found WR Corey Crooms on a deep post road. Crooms broke a tackle and had nothing green in front of him after that, going 54 yards for the score. 34-27 Bronco.
Pitt responded quickly in their next practice, scoring 75 yards in seven games. Picket closed that run with his second TD throw to Lucas Krull, to reduce the score to 34-34.
The Panthers kept coming to the Broncos, but the Broncos offense kept responding. Western’s next practice was perhaps their best of the day, 75 yards on 12 plays and 5h50 behind. La’Darius Jefferson finished practice with his second TD of the day, it a three-yard rush on second and goal. With 2:03 to go in the game, the Broncos were left with a 41-34 lead.
The WMU defense responded with their biggest stoppage of the day in subsequent practice, as Ali Fayad sent Pickett back in fourth to give the ball back to the Broncos offense. After exhausting 4:40 on the clock, Parker Sampson registered a 29-yard field goal to give Western a 44-34 lead.
Pitt wouldn’t come down without a fight, and Pickett led the Panthers onto the field for another effective strike. This time around, the Panthers had 75 yards in six games, Pickett found Jaylon Barden for a 22-yard touchdown to make it 44-41.
As it turned out, it was too little too late, as the Broncos managed to land three first downs in their ensuing practice and used up the remaining 3:48 hours of the clock. The clock hit triple zero and Western fans around the world could time out. The Broncos were able to fly the flag on the banks of the Pittsburgh River.
Despite the result, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett was fantastic in this game. The sixth-year senior chopped up the Broncos’ high school all day, finishing 23 of 31 for 382 yards and six touchdowns.
Luckily for the Broncos, Eleby was equally fantastic, and Western won the battle in 516-490 yards. There is still some work to be done in the running game, as the Broncos were only able to muster 160 yards on 48 carries (good for just 3.3 yards per carry).
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos’ passing defense has serious issues to resolve. As mentioned before, Pickett threw for 382 yards in this one, and the big plays continue to plague the West secondary. Pitt WR Jordan Addison succeeded with the Broncos, finishing with six catches for 124 yards and three scores.
The Broncos’ run defense was actually pretty solid in this one, holding the Panthers to 75 yards on 24 carries. It’s definitely something Pitt can lean on.
Having said that, now is not the time to be critical. It was a fantastic victory for Coach Lester and the entire Broncos program, and their first victory over a power-five foe since that magical 2016 season. Western started the year believing they were one of the best teams in the MAC, and this victory confirms that.
In college football, there is no time to rest on its laurels. The Broncos face another tough test next week, as defending Mountain West champion San Jose State heads to Kalamazoo. Kick-off at Waldo Stadium is scheduled for 2:00 a.m. EST.