While the loss to Penn State University in the Big Ten Championship game still looms large for the Badger faithful, the University of Wisconsin football team ended the 2016-17 season on a high note with a close win over Western Michigan University Monday. The hard-fought victory marked UW’s third straight bowl win and its first Cotton Bowl win in program history.
With the win, the Badgers moved to 11-3 on the year, marking the second 10-win season under head coach Paul Chryst in as many years. Despite the 7.5-point Vegas spread in favor of UW, the Badgers squeaked out an 8-point win in another typical showing from a slow-moving offense and stingy defensive front.
Among the many solid performances, the most defining moments of the game came from tight end Troy Fumagalli. The junior force caught six passes on seven targets for 86 yards and a touchdown. Despite the consistency, his biggest plays came in crunch time, the first of which was a diving, one-handed catch on a third and 13 that led to an eventual Badger touchdown and a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Fumagalli continued his dominance during Western Michigan’s fourth-quarter comeback, snagging an eight-yard throw from redshirt-freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook straight out of the air to secure the win for Wisconsin. His play to virtually carry the Badger victory on his back is almost more impressive when considering the fact that the tight end has only nine fingers as a result of a childhood condition that left him with an amputated hand.
The man under center that got Fumagalli the ball throughout the game, Bart Houston, also had himself a day with 159 yards through the air on 11-12 and no turnovers. The fifth year senior quarterback ended his stint in Madison with one of the most complete displays of his career, starting and playing all but one of Wisconsin’s drives in his fifth win.
On the other side of the ball for the Badgers, a big question going into the game was whether a defense that gave up a 21-point lead to Penn State could contain explosive Bronco receiver Corey Davis, the all-time Football Bowl Subdivision leader in yards through the air. Sophomore linebacker and former Western Michigan recruit, T.J. Edwards erased all doubt with 10 tackles and a crucial interception early in the fourth quarter and setting up the touchdown to Fumagalli.
Even with four fumbles from Western Michigan, the third-ranked defense in points allowed per game held their own and took home the Cotton Bowl in the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium to cap off a big year for Wisconsin football.
While most Badger fans hoped to see their team in the Rose Bowl or competing in the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Eve, a victory in one of the best bowl games in the country will have to do.
Wisconsin now looks ahead to spring practice and will see whether junior All-Americans T.J. Watt and Ryan Ramczyk decide to return for their final year in Madison. With Chryst looking like he will return for his third year and a 2-0 record in bowls, the future is bright for Badger football in the new year.