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.
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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 quarterback 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.
Purdue's Akeem Shavers ran for a career-high 148 yards on 22 carries, filling in for the injured Ralph Bolden, and was named the game's MVP.
TerBush was 8 of 13 for 101 yards with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Gary Bush midway through the third quarter that put Purdue up 34-18. Robert Marve was 6 of 7 for 76 yards with a 1-yard scoring pass to Pegram in the first quarter.
Purdue defensive end Gerald Gooden had two of his team's four interceptions, and gave back one of those two turnovers back to the Broncos in a game filled with miscues and missed opportunities for both teams.
Western Michigan's star receiver, Jordan White, who drew at least one NFL scout to watch him, caught 13 passes -- including a one-handed grab -- for 249 yards and a score. He was given a sixth season of eligibility this year because of injuries.
"We're about 10 points from being 10-3," said White, who set MAC marks for yards receiving in a season and career. "I think we had all the pieces to the puzzle but we didn't make it happen on the field."
Carder was 31 of 57 for 413 yards with three TDs. But the junior matched a career high with four interceptions and gave up the ball a fifth time to end the Broncos' chances to rally in their homestate in front of tens of thousands of their fans.
The Purdue contingent will go back across the border to Indiana happy, especially school officials who added two years to Hope's deal last week to keep him under contract through 2016.
"Big difference between being a bowl participant and a bowl champion," Hope said. "It builds great momentum for our team and will give us a shot in the arm with recruiting and will energize our fan base."