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CMU Kicks Field Goal as Time Expires to Beat New Hampshire

The Chippewas' 50-point loss to Michigan was a disaster in almost every way imaginable. On Saturday against New Hampshire, it appeared things would get worse for CMU...but somehow, they found the courage to pull out a win.

Tim Fitzgerald/CMU Athletics

Being blown out in your opening game of a season is bad.  But when it happens in front of 110,000 fans on the road against a top-25 team, you take it with a small grain of salt.  Things like that happen from time-to-time.  You move on and play the rest of your season.

You might ask...what could be worse?  That answer is easy.  Worse is when you lose part of the heart and soul of your team, the best player your team has to offer on offense plus your starting quarterback, to injuries just one quarter into the season.  How you respond to the adversity speaks enormously about your team and what kind of mindset it will have going forward.

Three quarters (and 38 seconds) into Saturday's home opener against FCS-power New Hampshire, Central Michigan appeared to be on the wrong path.  They were losing 21-7 and appeared to have every reason to throw in the towel.  Instead, the Chippewas found an inner strength and scored 17 points over the game's final 12 minutes to pull out a 24-21 victory that might save their season

Early in the game, Central Michigan could not stop New Hampshire's offense.  The Wildcats took the opening kickoff and held the ball for nearly seven minutes.  Fortunately for CMU, that drive resulted in no points.  UNH marched to the Chippewa 17 before a holding penalty and two negative plays forced a field goal attempt.  Mike MacArthur missed wide left from 41 yards out, and CMU took the ball with the game still scoreless.

The Wildcats quickly forced a three-and-out and began a new drive at their own 29.  This time, they did not fail to score.  The 13-play drive took 4:55 off the clock and was helped by two huge late-down conversions.  On 3rd-and-7 from the UNH 44, Andy Vailas passed ten yards to Chris Setian for a first down.  Then, on 4th-and-7 from the CMU 28, he passed to Jimmy Giansante, who stepped out of bounds right at the first down marker at the 21 yard line.  Two plays later, R.J. Harris ran 16 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.  Setian attempted to run in for a two-point conversion and was originally awarded the score.  However, upon review, the play was overturned and UNH had a 6-0 lead.

Three plays after the kickoff, Central Michigan had to punt again.  In fact, the Chippewas ran just six plays for 15 yards in the first quarter.  Although they forced New Hampshire to punt on UNH's next two drives, CMU could not get their offense going at all.  Their first six plays of the second quarter were even worse than their six in the first.  These six plays went for a total of -1 yards, and, on the sixth play, Alex Niznak was intercepted by New Hampshire's Keith Parkinson on 3rd-and-14.  UNH took over at their own 47-yard line.  That amounted to 12 plays for 14 yards and a turnover in the game's first 20 minutes.

UNH quickly converted the turnover into another touchdown.  Vailas passed 17 yards to Justin Mello to cap a seven-play drive and give the Wildcats a 13-0 lead.

Finally, Central Michigan was able to generate some offense on their next drive.  Cooper Rush took over at quarterback for Niznak, and CMU's initial first down of the game came on a 3rd-and-10 conversion midway through the second quarter as Rush completed a 24-yard pass to Jesse Kroll.  Rush led CMU to the New Hampshire 25, but his pass to Ben McCord fell incomplete on 4th-and-9 to kill the drive.  Neither team ran another play in the opponent's territory for the remainder of the half, and New Hampshire went to halftime with their two-touchdown margin.

At the beginning of the second half, Rush continued to lead the Chippewa offense.  After ten plays on the opening drive, CMU faced a 4th-and-1 from the New Hampshire 3.  Saylor Lavallii tried to convert on the ground, but Wildcat Akil Anderson was having none of it, and Lavallii was stopped for no gain.

New Hampshire was able to get out of the shadow of their own goal line with a pass from Sean Goldrich (who took over for Vailas to begin the second half) to Mello for 41 yards.  On 3rd-and-15 from their own 46, Goldrich was intercepted by Kavon Frazier at the CMU 39.

From there, the Chippewas finally made some noise.  Rush immediately passed to Courtney Williams for 17 yards and then, two plays later, hit Kroll for 27 more.  After three runs, Rush passed once more.  This time, his target was Titus Davis, who caught the ball for a nine-yard touchdown.  The conversion cut UNH's lead to 13-7.

The momentum did not last.  Vailas came back in for New Hampshire but had to leave the game again after just three plays.  When Goldrich returned, he rushed 28 yards down to the CMU 31, then threw a pass to Mello, who caught the ball and was downed at the 1-yard line.  After a false start penalty, Nico Steriti rushed twice to get into the end zone.  His two-yard scoring run set up a two-point conversion by Vailas, and New Hampshire had a 21-7 lead.

When CMU got the ball back, Rush continued to make things happen at quarterback.  A pass interference penalty on UNH helped the drive and put the ball at the Wildcat 38.  From there, Lavallii ran for an 18-yard gain before Rush threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Flory to cut the UNH lead in half.

Vailas came back in at QB for New Hampshire to try to spark the Wildcats, but despite a 30-yard pass to Harris, UNH had to punt from their own 45.  It was downed at the CMU 3 and, from there, the Chippewas finally saw fortune smile.  After an incomplete pass to Williams, Rush found Davis wide open over the middle.  His pass was caught in stride, and Davis rumbled 97 yards for the game-tying touchdown.

After each team went three-and-out, New Hampshire went on a drive that looked like it would finally put Central Michigan away.  Fate just forgot to tell Justin Cherocci.  On 3rd-and-1 from the CMU 21, Vailas kept the ball and ran for what appeared to be a first down, but Cherocci caused Vailas to fumble.  Frazier recovered for the Chippewas...and they would keep the ball for the rest of the game.

On the second play of the game's final drive, Lavallii rushed 42 yards to the UNH 30 to set Central up for the game-winning score.  Three plays later, it was 3rd-and-15 and a punt seemed to be likely.  But again, fate did not tell Rush.  In what may have been the best play of his collegiate debut, Rush threw to Davis for 17 yards and a first down.  Three Lavallii runs later, just three seconds remained on the clock, and Ron Coluzzi was trotting out for a 27-yard field goal attempt.

The snap, the hold, and the kick were all true, and the Chippewas were 24-21 victors.

CMU ended the game with 437 yards of total offense, virtually all of it coming after Rush entered the game.  He was 19-for-32 passing with 326 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.  After catching just two balls last week, Davis led all receivers with six catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.  Flory also had a touchdown among four catches for 32 yards.  Lavallii carried 20 times for 93 yards, as CMU rushed for 104 yards as a team.  On defense, Cherocci had an incredible game, with 13 tackles (eight solos), 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and two forced fumbles.  Shamari Benton had 12 tackles and a sack.

New Hampshire produced 385 yards on offense, including 158 yards on the ground.  Steriti led the way with 56 yards, while Vailas added 50.  Through the air, Vailas was 15-for-22 with 156 yards and a touchdown.  Goldrich had 71 yards on just two completions and also had an interception.  Mello led the Wildcats with 117 yards on five receptions and had one touchdown.

Central Michigan's next opponent is UNLV in Las Vegas next Saturday.  The Runnin' Rebels are 0-2 on the season after dropping a 51-23 decision at Minnesota and a 58-13 game to Arizona at home.  After that, the Chippewas return home to open Mid-American Conference play against Toledo.

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