RYAN RADCLIFF threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Cody Wilson with 5:11 remaining to give Central Michigan the lead, and Western Kentucky was stopped on fourth down when a field goal would have tied the game in the final minute, giving the Chippewas a 24-21 win in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Wednesday night in Detroit.
Lance Guidry, coaching the Hilltoppers on an interim basis before Bobby Petrino takes over, decided to play for the win on fourth-and-2 from the 19 with 51 seconds left, but Kawaun Jakes threw incomplete.
Western Kentucky (7-6) fell just short in its first bowl since joining college football's top tier in 2009.
Avery Cunningham blocked a punt for Central Michigan (7-6) to give the Chippewas a short field before Wilson's TD.
Radcliff went 19 of 29 for 253 yards and three touchdowns, but Central Michigan needed to rally late. Zurlon Tipton appeared to have put the Chippewas ahead in the fourth quarter, but his fourth-down run was ruled short of the goal line after a review.
With Western Kentucky still up 21-17, the Hilltoppers had to punt from their end zone. Cunningham blocked it, and although the ball bounced around for a bit, the Chippewas finally secured it and took over with great field position inside the 30.
Radcliff found Wilson in the back left corner of the end zone for a 24-21 lead.
Western Kentucky's final drive ended when Jakes' pass intended for Jack Doyle fell incomplete.
Petrino, the Hilltoppers' coach-in-waiting, was expected to be at Ford Field watching his new team, but a snowstorm forced him to scrap those plans.
Western Kentucky started aggressively. Down 7-0, the Hilltoppers ran a flea-flicker on their first play from scrimmage, with Antonio Andrews running to his right, then tossing the ball back to Jakes, who found Rico Brown for a 70-yard gain.
Two plays later, Jakes scored on a 6-yard run to tie it.
Central Michigan answered with a 73-yard drive that ended with Andrew Flory's 29-yard touchdown reception, his second of the quarter.
The offenses settled down a bit for the rest of the quarter. Both teams were backed up by a pair of terrific punts. Hendrix Brakefield's 74-yarder pinned Central Michigan at its 5, but Richie Hogan flipped the field position with a punt that sailed past Andrews and bounced back to the Western Kentucky 12. The 82-yard effort was returned only 4 yards.
Andrews rushed for 119 yards, but he fell short of the 274 all-purpose yards he needed to break the single-season record of 3,250 set by Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders in 1988.
Georgia coach Mark Richt disclosed that senior defensive lineman John Jenkins is academically ineligible to participate in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska on Jan. 1, according to a report on ESPN.com.
The move ends Jenkins' college career, but he is a projected first-round NFL draft pick. Junior Kwame Geathers will fill the open spot.
Meanwhile, senior defensive end Abry Jones, who hasn't played since suffering an ankle injury in late October, is probable for the bowl game.