The Western Michigan-Central Michigan rivalry has a little bit of a different feel to it in 2019.
Most of that is due to the Chippewas bringing in a new head coach in Jim McElwain after former coach John Bonamego was fired last season after going 1-11.
Still, even though Broncos head coach Tim Lester acknowledges it’s an entirely different team from the past couple years, he knows that doesn’t change the importance of this game.
“Obviously it’s a huge game,” Lester said Monday morning during the Mid-American conference telethon. “If you ask the alumni it’s the only must-win of the year.”
The rivalry dates to 1907, when Western Michigan was Western State Normal school. Western was able to pull off a 29-0 win in that meeting in Mount Pleasant as they lead the all-time series 49-38-2.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the Bronco-Chippewa rivalry.
In the early days of the rivalry, Western mainly dominated. They came out on top in the first four games of the series from 1907-1910 before the schools waited another 15 years to play.
Then came the series’ first tie, as the two played to a 0-0 barn burner in 1925 in Kalamazoo. CMU picked up their first win in the series in 1927 by a score of 18-12, but they would find those hard to come by for the next several years.
From 1928 to 1952, Western reeled off 20-of-21 against Central as they were able to dominate that stretch in the rivalry.
Chippewas turn the tables
In 1975, both teams began competing together in NCAA Division I football. Since that point, Central Michigan holds a 27-16-1 edge against the Broncos.
The Chips powered their way to a 34-0 win at home that year. For the next 20 years, until 1994, they would only fall to the Broncos twice (1988, 1992) while tying in 1982.
It wasn’t until 2001 where WMU got consecutive wins in the series again, as they pulled off three straight from 2001-2003.
Battle for the Victory Cannon
Even though this rivalry dates back over 100 years, the Victory Cannon wasn’t introduced until 2008.
The Chips got their hands on the trophy first, winning a 38-28 shootout against the Broncos in Mount Pleasant that season.
In that game, WMU quarterback Tim Hiller threw for a staggering 471 yards on 38 completions and two touchdowns to keep the Broncos in the game.
But the Chippewas outworked the Broncos on the ground, out rushing them 176-49 as CMU running back Bryan Schroeder went for 106 yards with two scores in the win.
The Broncos would first get their hands on the cannon in 2011 with a blowout 44-14 win at Waldo Stadium. WMU quarterback Alex Carder had a big game through the air with 355 yards on 28 completions and three touchdowns as the Broncos cruised to a win.
Tim Lester is in his third season at the head man at WMU and owns a 1-1 record against the Chippewas.
Lester’s first matchup against Central was a forgettable one. In 2017, the Broncos held a 28-14 lead going into the fourth quarter on a rainy November night in Kalamazoo.
WMU was in full control of the game until the Chippewas came storming back in the fourth quarter before taking their first lead with 2:37 to go in the game on a 77-yard Shane Morris touchdown pass to wide receiver Corey Willis
The Broncos made plenty of mistakes to aid that Chippewa comeback that night. Lester said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference he did not like the way his team finished that game and that it changed some of the things they do within the program.
“We struggled in the fourth quarter with our focus,” (in that game) Lester said. “We’ve added a couple drills, kids don’t really like the drills, but they understand why we do them. That started the Monday after the Central Michigan game two years ago.”
Lester also pointed out the several close games they were able to close out in the 2018 season due to being stronger in the fourth quarter and he credits that to the 2017 CMU game.
“We are a better fourth quarter team now because of that day,” Lester said. “When we have to play 60 minutes, we are a better and tougher team because of that loss two years ago.”
The road team has won every matchup since 2016 in this series. Western Michigan will hope to buck that trend when they welcome in the Chippewas to Waldo Stadium on Saturday afternoon.