Central Michigan scored what proved to be a game-winning touchdown with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and a fourth-down pass play for WKU fell incomplete as the Hilltoppers fell 24-21 Wednesday night in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field.
WKU ended the 2012 season with a 7-6 record, playing in the first Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision game in school history.
"I am so proud of this group. The have been through so much in the last few weeks," said WKU interim head coach Lance Guidry. "I'm proud of the way we played tonight. We left some plays out of the field that might have changed the outcome, but sometimes that's how the cookie crumbles."
The Hilltoppers led 21-17 entering the fourth quarter, but a blocked punt gave the Chippewas a short field with just under seven minutes remaining. Game MVP Ryan Radcliff threw his third touchdown pass of the game, connecting with Cody Wilson on an 11-yard scoring pass to put CMU in front 24-21 with just five minutes left.
WKU was able to get the ball back and drive down to the Central Michigan 19 yard line, converting two third-and-longs on the drive. On third-and-10 from the 27, Kawaun Jakes connected with Willie McNeal on an eight-yard completion. After a timeout with less than a minute left, WKU kept its offense on the field, but a pass from Jakes was incomplete and CMU was able to run out the clock for the victory.
Despite the loss, WKU became just the eighth program since 1989 to earn a bowl berth in its first four years of eligibility. The Hilltoppers joined the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2009. WKU's senior class also was part of a turnaround that saw the program go 0-12 during their freshman season, to putting together back-to-back winning seasons in 2011 and 2012, and giving the school its first bowl trip.