Opposites will meet Monday afternoon in Dallas when Western Michigan faces Western Kentucky. We have your First Responders Bowl Preview.
First Responders Bowl Preview
Get To Know The Bowl
The ninth incarnation of the Servpro First Responders Bowl is at Gerald Ford Stadium on the SMU campus at 12:30pm eastern time Monday.
This would be the 10th consecutive year, but last year’s game was cancelled after a temporary lightning delay in the first quarter turned into a two-hour delay. Boston College had a 7-0 lead over Boise State at the time.
This is the second year under the current name. The game was previously called the Heart of Dallas Bowl (six years), and the Ticket City Bowl (the first two years). With last year’s cancellation, technically, this is the first ever Servpro First Responders Bowl.
The game is designed as a fundraiser for equipment needs for area first responders. Verified first responders and their families are also given free tickets to the game.
This year’s game features two teams that played 14 times between 1923 and 1947 but have not faced each other in the 72 years since.
Western Michigan comes into the game 7-5 overall and 5-3 in conference play. The Broncos finished second in the MAC West, (behind Central Michigan). WMU was like two different teams all season based on where they were playing. The Broncos were 1-5 on the road and 6-0 at home.
This will be the third consecutive winning season for head coach Tim Lester in the post-PJ Fleck era in Kalamazoo.
Senior quarterback Jon Wassink had a decent enough season. He completed 59% of his passes for 2,904 yards (37th in the country). He also had 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He tended to be streaky though. In early November against Ball State, he was 13 of 24 for only 124 yards with n touchdowns. The following week, he was 23 of 34 for 322 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in an overtime win against Ohio. Two weeks later in the season ending loss to Northern Illinois, he completed only 51% of his passes and had no touchdowns.
For the Broncos to have success Monday they will need a big game from running back LeVante Bellamy. The senior is only 5-9, 190 pounds, but his production this season was huge. He was tied for first in the country with 23 rushing touchdowns. He put up 1,412 yards (tied for 11th in the country) and averaged jut under six yards per carry.
Wassink does not need to carry the entire offensive load on his shoulders for Western Michigan to win, but he has to at least be consistent enough to keep Western Kentucky from stacking the box to stop Bellamy.
At 8-4 overall, and 6-2 in conference play, Western Kentucky finished in second in the Conference USA East Division. The Hilltoppers ended the season on a three-game winning streak, including a 26-point beat down over the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks. A ninth win this season would equal the previous two seasons combined. Tyson Helton, (younger brother of USC’s Clay Helton), is wrapping up his first season as head coach.
You can expect to see a much more balanced attack from the Hilltoppers. Quarterback Ty Storey is a grad transfer from Arkansas, ironically enough. Last year for the Razorbacks, he threw for 1,584 yards but had 10 interceptions and 11 touchdowns, with a 57% completion percentage.
In his one year for the Hilltoppers, Storey has a 70% completion rate, with 12 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He has also thrown for 2,209 yards this season.
WKU also has a running game emanating from an unexpected source. Gaej Walker played in all 12 games last year as a defensive back, even getting his first career interception late in the season. In Spring camp, Helton asked the former high school running back to move over to the offensive side of the ball. Walker rewarded the idea with seven 100-yard rushing games and a season total of 1,115 yards. He also had eight rushing touchdowns.
A win would give WKU its first bowl win since a victory in the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl. It would also make Helton the third coach in school history to win a bowl game.
Western Michigan is looking for its second bowl win in school history. The Broncos only previous bowl win came in 2015 at the Bahamas Bowl.