ARLINGTON, Texas — While half of the 59,615 was the Bronco faithful screaming "Row the Boat," the other sat silently confident — like it knew the outcome before the final whistle sounded.
Before P.J. Fleck and the Broncos met in Monday's Cotton Bowl Classic, the Mid-American Conference defeated the Big Ten only once in more than 50 years.
Wisconsin, by beating Western Michigan University 24-16 at AT&T Stadium, made sure the Broncos wouldn't repeat Bowling Green State University's four-point victory over Northwestern University in 2003.
At least not yet.
"It means a ton. This is the last time this team plays together and to be able to get a win against a good team means a lot," Head Coach Paul Chryst said. "I thought our team was kind of who they are. We all thought all along for our team to be the best it can be, we need everyone. Today was an example. We needed a lot of guys."
With the help of Corey Clement (22 rush, 71 yds, 1 TD), Dare Ogunbowale (5 rush, 22 yds, 1 TD) and Jazz Peavy (3 rush, 50 yds) the Badgers' rushing attack proved trying to keep pace with Wisconson wasn't easy.
The Badgers racked up 245 yards of total offense and two touchdowns in the first 24 minutes behind scores by Clement and Ogunbowale. The duo's totals doubled Western Michigan's combined rushing yards in the first two quarters.
The Badgers, which opened the game with a 6:08 touchdown scoring drive, also helped snap Western Michigan's 13-game winning streak and made sure the MAC left Texas 0-1.
"I was just wide open. I didn't get touched," Clement said about his first quarter scamper. "That's why I thank those big boys up front. I was going to hit [the hole] 100 miles per hour and see what happened. By the time I lifted my head up, I was crossing the goal line. We didn't underestimate Western Michigan — on either side of the ball. We knew they were coming in looking for a victory just like us. They came in hot and you had to respect their style of play."
The defense, too, limited the deadly Bronco passing attack led by 6-foot-3 and 215-pound projected NFL first-round draft pick Corey Davis and 6-foot-2 and 176-pound Carrington Thompson.
Much of their frustration was courtesy of Sojourn Shelton and Natrell Jamerson, who held Davis to a single reception and 22 yards and Thompson to nine yards by the time the first quarter ended. By halftime, Davis and Thompson had a combined for only 54 yards on five receptions.
"It's really all of us, honestly," said Shelton, the Badgers' strong-side cornerback, before the game. "We really play well together. The defensive line makes plays. The linebackers make plays and the secondary backs all of them up. Our ability to create turnovers — I think we're at 21 [for the season]— is what's been our strength."
The defense, led by Vince Biegel, Garret Dooley, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt, forced three turnovers via two fumbles and an interception. Six receptions, 83 yards and a touchdown by Troy Fumagalli, recipient of the Sanford Trophy for the most Oustanding offensive Player, or 11-for-12 passing for 159 yards by Bart Houston didn't hurt either.
While Western Michigan tried to write its future, Wisconsin leaned on history. In 11 college football games this season, the Badgers were 9-2 when leading at halftime and 18-2 overall under Chryst's guiding hand.
Fifty-one of the 80 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classics — including eight of the last nine — were won by the team leading at halftime. Wisconsin, which pounded the football relentlessly, raised that number by one.
"We ended up getting beat. We did some critical things at some critical times. I think we had four [fumbles] and the interception," Fleck said. "When you do that against the sixth-ranked team in the country that's what happens. They played their style of football better than we played our style of football. You got to give them all the credit in the world because they're well coached. They're an incredible team and, now, Cotton Bowl champs."
Western Michigan ensured that the road to the twisted silver trophy wasn't a cake walk through an untested MAC team simply happy to be involved in the Cotton Bowl conversation.
On the first drive of second half, the Broncos closed within a touchdown after a 10-yard scramble by Zach Terrell, a 17-yd reception by Corey Davis, a 23-yard run by Jarvion Franklin and Butch Hampton's 27-yard field goal, then stuffed Ogunbowale to force a three-and-out.
Terrell's only mistake in a sea of gutty scrambles to extend plays — including during the 16-play and 75-yard drive capped by a Davis touchdown — was finding T.J. Edwards instead of one of his own receivers.
It only takes one to shift the momentum of a football game, though.
The interception, an errant throw on 1st and 10 snatched out of the air by Edwards, a Wisconsin linebacker and McKnight Trophy (Outstanding Defensive Player) awardee, came seconds after the Bronco defense forced the Badgers to punt with Western Michigan trailing by only a touchdown.
"I'm just proud of the way they played," Chryst said about his defense. "To win a game against a good team, you need a lot of plays. We made enough. So many guys were a part of a real good defense that was fun to watch. The Cotton Bowl has been unbelievable and to win it means a lot."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusMarionWNI.