The game didn’t start the way the Chippewas wanted it to, and towards it end it got a little frisky too, but by the end of a wild Wednesday night in Mt. Pleasant, it didn’t much matter, as Central Michigan (6-4 overall, 4-2 MAC) held off in-state rival Eastern Michigan (3-7 overall, 1-5 MAC) by a final score of 42 to 30.
The win gave CMU bowl eligibility with two games remaining to improve the team’s standing for bowl suitors, while EMU was mathematically eliminated from consideration after another crushing loss.
As a result of the tonight’s win, CMU also holds both the Victory Cannon (rivalry trophy with WMU) and the Michigan MAC Trophy (three-way round robin trophy with WMU and EMU) for the first time since 2013.
Jonathan Ward had a career day at the running back position, rushing for a career high 159 yards and scoring on the ground twice to help lead the Chips to victory at Kelly/Short Stadium. Quarterback Shane Morris, who wore the #21 Derrick Nash tribute jersey, was unstoppable in the air, going 11-of-18 for 155 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
CMU had a rough start to the game, allowing Maxx Crosby to strip sack Morris and return his own recovery for a 25-yard defensive touchdown to put EMU up by a score of 7-0 just six seconds into the game. On the ensuing possession, CMU was unable to move the ball much, punting the ball to the Eagles after seven plays. Brogan Roback threw an interception to linebacker Alex Briones on the very first play from scrimmage to put CMU in prime position to score.
The Chips were unable to convert despite getting inside the EMU 5-yard line, giving the ball back to the Eagles, who conversely punted after a three-and-out of their own.
The next scoring play wopuldn’t come until the 4:45 mark of the first quarter, when Morris connected with Tyler Conklin on a four-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7 apiece. EMU once again was forced to a three-and-out and onthe first play of the next possession, CMU’s Jonathan Ward made a mad 79-yard dash to score a touchdown for the homestanding Chippewas to place them ahead 14-7.
EMU would take the ball back and move it for the first time with any real efficiency, turning a 14 play, 53 yard drive into a 39-yard Paulie Fricano field goal to pull the score to 14-10 with 12:35 to go in the second quarter.
That drive really opened up the scoring in the quarter, as CMU needed nine plays on the following drive to connect with Corey Willis on a 12-yard touchdown pass to put CMU up 21-10. A Sean Bunting interception of Brogan Roback allowed CMU another opportunity for points before the half, as Morris and Willis once again connected for a four-yard score to put the score at 28-10.
EMU would respond with an eight-play, 75-yard drive of their own to put the socre at 28-17 just prior to the end of the half, courtesy of a Shaq Vann 22-yard touchdown run.
The third quarter was a nightmare to start for the Eagles, as Roback was intercepted twice (once by Sean Bunting and once by Josh Cox for a 47-yard return) and the Chippewas scored to start the second half account on a Ward three-yard touchdown rush. They would eventually settle down, as both teams exchanged punts and turnovers on down for the rest of the quarter.
EMU started its comeback rally in the fourth quarter, as Roback connected on a touchdown pass to Johnnie Niupalau aided in part by defensive penalties. THe Eagles forced a three-and-out on the Chippewas’ next possession and regained the ball, leading a four-play, 49 yard drive to score another touchdown, this time a 18-yard receiving touchdown for Matthew Sexton, to bring the score to 35-30 after a failed two-point conversion.
Then, the weird stuff started to happen. Both teams exchanged punts in the waning minutes, but CMU had the ball with two minutes remianing and EMU had all three timeouts, setting up the possibility for one last drive to win the game. On third down and short, Kumehnuu Gwilly and several other CMU players inexplicably stopped in the middle of the play due to a whistle-like sound at the beginning of the play. Gwilly was eventually taken down for a loss of six, forcing a CMU punt.
This gave EMU the ball at its own 26 with 1:03 to go in the game. Shaq Van ran for ight yards on the first play of the drive before Amari Coleman intercepted the crossing route and returned the ball for a 33-yard touchdown to win the game by a final score of 42-30.
Willis led all receivers with a game-high six receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns on the day for CMU, while Matthew Sexton (four receptions, 51 yards, one touchdown) led for the Eagles. Shaq Vann led in rushing yards (71) and split for the lead in carries (14) with Ian Eriksen, who had 52 yards.
Brogan Roback finished the day 23-of-39 in the air for 204 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions.