Western Kentucky wins First Responder Bowl on untimed down thanks to Western Michigan penalty

Western Kentucky kicker Cory Munson hit a 52-yard field goal on an untimed down to win the First Responder Bowl. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)
Western Kentucky kicker Cory Munson hit a 52-yard field goal on an untimed down to win the First Responder Bowl. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

A mostly uneventful First Responder Bowl (a game that was canceled last year) between Western Kentucky and Western Michigan ended up concluding in dramatic fashion. 

Western Kentucky kicker Cory Munson drilled a game-winning 52-yard field goal with no time remaining to give the Hilltoppers a 23-20 victory over the Broncos. But the sequence of events leading up to that field goal was a wacky one. 

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Munson tied the game at 20-20 by hitting a 31-yard field goal with 1:36 to play. That left plenty of time for WMU, and it looked like the Broncos would be in position to win the game after Jon Wassink found DaShon Bussell for a diving 34-yard catch down the left sideline.

A few plays later, WMU faced a third-and-1 from the WKU 28-yard line. The Broncos dialed up a read option, and Wassink faked a handoff and had plenty of room to run ahead of him. But Wassink somehow ended up falling over, resulting in a two-yard loss. 

Instead of a big gain and a first down, WMU instead had a fourth-and-3 from the WKU 30. That apparently was a little bit out of field goal range for kicker Thiago Kapps, so coach Tim Lester kept his offense on the field. That move would backfire, as WMU turned it over on downs when a Wassink pass fell incomplete. 

That gave the ball back to WKU at its own 30 with 22 seconds left. And after completions of 11 and 20 yards from Ty Storey to Gaej Walker, the Hilltoppers had advanced to the WMU 39-yard line with only a few seconds remaining. 

Instead of trying a 57-yard field goal from Munson, WKU tried a Hail Mary instead. Storey’s deep ball fell incomplete and it looked like the game would head to overtime. 

However, there was a flag on the play. After a lengthy review, it was determined that Western Michigan’s defense had 12 men on the field, resulting in a five-yard penalty and an untimed down.

That opened the door for Munson to try a kick more in his range, this time from 52 yards. Munson hit a 26-yarder in the first half, but also missed from 29. Nonetheless, he stepped up and drilled the game-winning field goal to cap off a wild ending. 

With the win, Western Kentucky finishes the year with a 9-4 record in its first year with Tyson Helton as head coach. Western Michigan, meanwhile, falls to 7-6.

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