ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Troy Fumagalli had highlight catches for Wisconsin even before the big tight end’s leaping 8-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and his 26-yard gain on third down that effectively wrapped up the Cotton Bowl victory.
The game’s offensive MVP also had a nifty one-handed grab on third down with his left hand — the one missing an index finger since right after his birth — to extend the eighth-ranked Badgers’ opening touchdown drive. There was another leaping two-handed catch in the first half of a 24-16 victory Monday that denied Western Michigan a perfect season.
“It’s special,” said Fumagalli, a junior. “It’s a great feeling to come out on top.”
Fumagalli had seven passes thrown his way, and the 6-foot-6 junior caught six of them. The last two clinched the third consecutive bowl victory for the Big Ten runner-up Badgers (11-3).
After his TD catch between two defenders in the back of the end zone with 12:26 left made it 24-10, Western Michigan (13-1) took 9 minutes to score. Wisconsin was able to run out the clock after Fumagalli’s big play on third-and-8.
“He’s unbelievable,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said.
With their “Row The Boat” mentality inspired by Fleck, the 12th-ranked Broncos (13-1) went from one win during his first season in Kalamazoo three years ago to the last FBS team other than No. 1 Alabama this season with a chance to be undefeated.
“Told them I was very proud of them, how much I love them, and the effort they gave,” Fleck said about what he told his team on the sideline just before the end of the game. “We will continue to learn from this. We will embrace our past to create our future, and it just wasn’t enough tonight.”
The Badgers, who finished with 11 wins for the fourth time in seven seasons, were clearly bigger and stronger — especially up front. Their offensive line averaged about three inches and 45 pounds more than the WMU defensive front.
Wisconsin set the tone early, with rushing touchdowns on its first two drives to lead 14-0 against the Group of Five team.
Fumagalli’s TD came three plays after a rare interception by senior Zach Terrell, who finished with 33 touchdowns and four picks — the last by Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards.
“It kind of left a bad taste in our mouth after the Big Ten championship game,” Edwards said. “We just wanted to get back out there and prove ourselves again.”
Terrell combined with All-America receiver Corey Davis for 51 career touchdowns, tying the FBS record on an 11-yarder on fourth down with 3:27 left . Even with cornerback Sojourn Shelton’s arms wrapped around him in the back of the end zone, Davis broke free to make the catch.
“It doesn’t matter if the defender is grabbing you or whatever it is. Go make a play on the ball if it’s in the air, and go attack it,” Davis said. “My four years at Western have been phenomenal. We’ve been through so much and I’ve learned so many lessons on the field, and off the field.”
Western Michigan: The Broncos never backed down and Fleck has set a solid foundation for them to keep rowing forward, even with the loss of guys like Davis and Terrell, who were part of that one-win season in 2013. Western Michigan had only 280 total yards, 217 below its season average.
Wisconsin: The only losses by the Badgers were to Big Ten foes Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, the last in the Big Ten title game. All also played in New Year’s Six games. Freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who started nine games before a concussion forced him to miss the Big Ten title, was 2-of-2 passing with the TD pass to Fumagalli. Senior Bart Houston was 11 of 12 for 159 yards.
After five consecutive 100-yard rushing games, Corey Clement was held to 71 yards on 22 carries. But he put the Badgers ahead to stay with a 2-yard TD on the opening drive. … Davis finished with six catches for 73 yards. His 5,285 career receiving yards are an FBS record.
Western Michigan knows it has to continue play Power Five teams to have chances for more New Year’s Six games, and maybe eventually a playoff appearance. The Broncos open next season Sept. 2 at USC, a week before they play Michigan State, another Big Ten opponent.
Wisconsin always gets a chance to prove itself in the Big Ten. So the Badgers can ease into their season, and will Sept. 1 at home against Utah State.
This story has been corrected to show that Fumagalli’s touchdown came with 12:26 left in the game, not 14 minutes left.