I was staring a losing wager square in the face.
The first half of my parlay was in but it takes two to tango. On the road, Central Michigan had easily covered the five-and-a-half against Northern Illinois. Western Michigan, however, was not holding up their part of the bargain. A one-point favorite, Western Michigan was hosting Toledo in a game that ended up giving us one of the most bizarre endings you will ever see in college sports. And miraculously, a winning ticket.
Tied 14-14 at the end of the first quarter, Western Michigan was down by ten at half. In fact, they hadn’t led the entire night. That’s when things got weird.
Toledo was moving the ball at will against WMU for most of the game. Down 31-28 with three minutes left on the clock, a seemingly dejected Western Michigan team allowed a late rushing touchdown. Toledo was now up by ten.
Western Michigan would get the ball back, down 38-28, completely out of timeouts and needing two scores. They would get the ball back with, according to ESPN.com, a 0.3% chance of winning the game.
Well, someone in Ohio is demanding a recount.
With 2:05 left deep in their own territory, WMU converted an unlikely fourth-down-and-five. They continued to drive the ball downfield, their quarterback Kaleb Eleby firing passes to wide receivers who were sometimes able to get out of bounds to stop the clock and sometimes not, allowing the clock to continue to roll.
With 1:15 left in the game, still down by ten and the ball around midfield, a Toledo victory was all but in the cards. Then Eleby made his second favorite pass of the night to D’Wayne Eskridge who caught a perfectly threaded ball down the sideline to the one-yard line.
Eleby then scored with 45 seconds remaining. All they needed was to convert the extra point, recover the onside kick, drive downfield to kick a field goal, tie the game and force it into overtime. Piece of cake, right?
The only problem is… THEY MISSED THE EXTRA POINT!!!
That meant Western Michigan, now down by four points instead of three, needed to still not only recover the onside kick but now score a touchdown instead of a field goal with only 45 seconds left to play.
All but impossible, until…
Kudos to Western Michigan’s special teams for doing something I’m not sure I’ve ever before seen on a kick-off. They lined up two kickers right next to each other so that Toledo, the receiving team, would not know which player was going to kick the ball.
“IT SQUIRTS FREE!! WESTERN MICHIGAN MIGHT HAVE RECOVERED IT!!!” shouted the announcer, as shocked as anyone watching. If you take a close look at the video, you can see the ball scoot free, then one of the kickers’ arms reach out and pull it back into his possession as larger bodies from the opposing him piled violently on top of him.
Okay, now things were just getting downright eerie. I had all but written off the wager. In fact, the wager was the only reason I was watching this otherwise meaningless game in the first place. (Let’s hear it for the eventual legalization of sports gambling! It’ll certainly give me a hell of a lot more to write about.)
Forty seconds and fifty yards to go, Western Michigan needed a touchdown for victory. Nothing else would do.
They drove the field. A ten-yard completion, out of bounds. Another lengthy completion, out of bounds. A completion in the middle of the field, not stopping the clock. With time expiring, Western Michigan would have to get to the line of scrimmage and quickly spike the ball for a few shots at the end zone… except they didn’t.
With an uncovered receiver lined up wide left, Eleby faked the spike… then threw what would be a game-winning touchdown to Jaylen Hall to the shock of everyone watching and probably even everyone playing.
With a .3% chance of pulling off the impossible, Western Michigan scored twice in less than three minutes in a game I can’t believe I’m writing about and I sure am glad I watched.
Cashing in that winning ticket after finally exhaling made it all that much better.