DETROIT — Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush took the final snap, sprinted to the sideline and handed the football to coach Danny Hope.
“It’s a moment that we’ve been waiting for the last three years,” Hope said.
Perhaps empowered by getting a contract extension recently, Hope made the gutsy decision to go for two onside kicks in the first half and both gambles paid off for the Boilermakers in a 37-32 win over Western Michigan on Tuesday night in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
“We were going to do a third one, but they changed the way they lined up,” Hope said. “I’m serious.”
In a game that seemed more silly than serious at times, 46,177 fans inside the home of the Detroit Lions were thoroughly entertained.
“It was a wild one, that’s for sure,” Hope said. “There’s a saying in football, ‘We’re all here because we’re not all there.’”
The Boilermakers (7-6) almost didn’t win despite having a double-digit lead for two-plus quarters.
Raheem Mostert returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, third-string running back Reggie Pegram scored the first two TDs of his career and Carson Wiggs made two field goals to give Purdue a 27-15 lead at halftime.
Wiggs also recovered one of his onside kicks, both of which he tapped toward a sideline after running at full speed as if he was trying to boot the ball deep.
“Two onside kicks really hurt us,” Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said. “We never got a break on defense in the first half.”
Purdue had another 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Big Ten team had to hold on for the win against the Mid-American Conference program.
The Broncos (7-6) got the ball with a chance to go ahead, but their comeback hopes ended when QB Alex Carder fumbled for his fifth turnover with just under 2 minutes left. Ryan Russell forced the final fumble and Bruce Gaston recovered to seal the win.
“It was nerve-racking,” Purdue linebacker Joe Holland said. “But as a defender, you want the game to come to you.”
The Boilermakers played in a bowl for the first time since 2007, when they beat Central Michigan – also in Detroit.
Western Michigan, meanwhile, fell to 0-5 in postseason play.
“I thought we’d win and walk out of here happy,” Cubit said.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE 31, LOUISVILLE 24
In Charlotte, N.C., Mike Glennon threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns and David Amerson returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown as North Carolina State beat Louisville.
T.J. Graham made the most of his final game at N.C. State with seven catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard score on a nifty catch-and-run, as the Wolfpack (8-5) overcame a series of special teams blunders to hold off a late charge from the Cardinals (7-6).
Amerson had two more interceptions to give him 13 for the season, the most in the country, while setting a new Atlantic Coast Conference record.
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, who threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another, nearly brought the Cardinals back from a 21-point deficit, but his final heave on fourth-and-23 was picked off by Amerson with 41 seconds left.