The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have gained a bit of a reputation for taking some risks to win games, but this time it caught up with them. The Hilltoppers fell to the Central Michigan Chippewas 24-21 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl thanks to a gamble that didn’t pay off.
With the Hilltoppers down by three with less than a minute to go, they passed on a game-tying field goal try from 36 yards out on fourth down. Instead Kawaun Jakes pass to tight end Jack Doyle fell incomplete and the Chippewas were easily able to run out the clock from there.
There were a couple of curious things about the decision to go for it late in the game. First off, the field goal attempt would have been very makeable. From 36 yards out in a dome environment, you have to have the confidence in your kicker in that situation to make it. If it was 50-plus and outdoors with rough conditions, then you could see the logic in going for it.
Secondly, the Hilltoppers let the play clock run down initially and were forced to burn a timeout before the fourth down attempt, leaving them with only two left. So when they failed the game was virtually over. However, if they had the extra timeout there would have still been time to force a Central Michigan punt and potentially get the ball back with at least a hope of returning to field goal range. Once Western Kentucky had to spend that timeout, a field goal attempt made even more sense because the gamble suddenly became even greater.
Lastly, the Hilltoppers may have been worried that a game-tying field goal would leave too much time for the Chippewas to potentially win the game in regulation, but Central Michigan seemed to have little interest in playing things aggressively at that point. Chippewas head coach Dan Enos elected not to call a timeout after the Hilltoppers third down play which allowed another 40 seconds to run off the clock. At that stage a field goal and ensuing kickoff probably would have given Central Michigan just under 40 seconds to get into field goal range themselves. Given Enos’ conservative mentality at that point, had Western Kentucky made the kick they would have had a very strong chance of heading to overtime.
Now the poor decision wasn’t the only reason that Western Kentucky lost. Central Michigan out-gained them, made ten more first downs, and won the time of possession battle as well. The Chippewas also capitalized on a blocked punt by Avery Cunningham in the fourth quarter that led to the go-ahead 11-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Radcliff to Cody Wilson, with just over five minutes to play.
The Bowl also featured potential 2013 first round pick Eric Fisher. The Central Michigan left tackle figures to be a mid to late first rounder this spring and ESPN’s Mel Kiper has him rated as his 16th overall prospect currently.
Western Kentucky interim head coach Lance Guidry may have wanted to make a name for himself while keeping the seat warm for the incoming Bobby Petrino. Going for the win instead of the tie has worked for the Hilltoppers once this season already. They beat the Kentucky Wildcats back in week three 32-31 when they went for a two-point conversion instead of kicking the tying extra point.
That’s the nature of gambling though, if you do it long enough you are going to get burned and eventually the house wins. On this night, the house was Central Michigan.
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