KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- No. 21 Western Michigan and P.J. Fleck rowed their way into a conference championship game and a potential invite to a New Year's Six bowl on Friday night, leaving a trail of broken records in their wake.
The Broncos (12-0) wrapped up their first undefeated season since 1941 with an emphatic 55-35 win over Toledo (9-3). The 12th victory broke a mark the team set the week before for the most wins in a single season, but it was far from the only milestone Western Michigan reached this weekend.
Senior receiver Corey Davis made eight catches for 81 yards, setting a record for the most career receiving yards in FBS history. His third catch of the day broke the previous 5,005-yard record set by Nevada's Trevor Insley in 1999. As an encore, he hauled in three more passes -- including a one-handed grab and a 2-yard, toe-dragging touchdown -- on the Broncos' opening drive of the second half. With two games left in his career, he has 5,068 career receiving yards.
"I was pretty emotional, but I tried to keep it together because we had an entire game to finish," Davis said about learning he had broken the record. "It was pretty emotional. I thank God everyday for the talent he's blessed me with."
The touchdown, the 50th of Davis' college career, gave Western Michigan a comfortable 31-14 lead, which proved to be more than enough to lock up the Mid-American Conference's West Division title. The Broncos will face Ohio next Friday night in Detroit for a chance to win their first league championship since 1988.
With No. 19 Boise State losing its second game of the season Friday night and not qualifying for the Mountain West championship game, the MAC championship appears to be the one obstacle still standing between Western Michigan and the chance to represent the Group of 5 schools in their New Year's Six bowl slot. A win over the Bobcats should stamp Fleck & Co.'s ticket to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas -- a long cry from the 1-11 year that the coach and his current seniors had in their first season together in 2013.
"To go from 1-11 to 12-0, I don't even know how many teams have ever done that in a three-year span," Fleck said. "I have no idea. I'd like to know. What those players accomplished tonight is historical."
The exuberance that has defined Fleck's transformational tenure at Western Michigan was immediately apparent Friday night. Linebacker Asantay Brown intercepted a pass on the first play of the game and took it back 21 yards for a touchdown. A few minutes earlier, the Broncos stormed onto the field from the same corner wielding oars and flags, led by a live horse and accompanied by a booming cannon. In what might be Fleck's final battle in Kalamazoo, they might as well have been storming Yorktown.
There's the one small rub to what might have been the biggest party Waldo Stadium has ever hosted. The first record to fall Friday night was the school's single-season attendance mark -- an accomplishment that has as much to do with the excitement its head coach generates as the 12-0 record. Will Western Michigan -- far from an established power in the MAC -- be able to sustain Fleck's unique brand of energy if the coach moves on to a bigger pond next season?
The 35-year-old human embodiment of a loaded spring has built a program, language and tradition for the boat-rowing Broncos in four short seasons. He has made Western Michigan one of college football's most lively campuses and attracted a level of talent that has the potential to rewrite more of the program's history books before it leaves. That type of culture overhaul is too impressive for bigger schools to ignore. In a stepping-stone league for rising coaches, he would be foolish not to at least listen to the suitors already forming a line at his door.
That's a problem for December or -- the Broncos hope -- January. It certainly wasn't enough to dampen any spirits on Friday night.