Central Michigan’s journey through 2019 was nothing short of miraculous. A 1-win program in 2018, many left the Chippewas for dead heading into the year. With first-year head coach Jim McElwain, Central Michigan claimed its first MAC Championship Game appearance since 2009. The turnaround season came to a bitter end in the mountains, falling 48-11 to San Diego State in the 2019 New Mexico Bowl.
While the game finished as a one-sided blowout, the New Mexico Bowl was full of action from start to finish. Several impressive stats arose from the contest, including notes on Central Michigan’s rushing prowess and San Diego State’s relentless defense.
Central Michigan earns second 1,000-yard rusher
On Central Michigan’s lone touchdown of the afternoon, the history books were rewritten. For the first time in Chippewa history, the team finished a season with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers — senior running back Jonathan Ward and sophomore Kobe Lewis.
Ward entered the New Mexico Bowl with 1,082 under his belt, his second time over the century mark in three seasons. Lewis earned his groundbreaking achievement in the middle of the game in the third quarter. On a 3rd and 1, San Diego State’s defense crashed on quarterback Tommy Lazzaro on a zone read. Lazzaro handed it off to Lewis, who broke free for a 66-yard touchdown run down the right sideline. Lewis crossed the 1,000-yard mark on the carry, making history on Central Michigan’s most memorable play of the game.
“It wasn’t necessarily about me trying to get to 1,000 yards,” Lewis said. “I just wanted to play hard, finish hard. I knew it was the last game. I don’t care if it was the last play or the last game, I just wanted to play hard and finish hard, and I just got reward with a 60-yard run from my o-linemen.”
Ward and Lewis join Buffalo running backs Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks as the only 1,000-yard rushing duo in 2019, as of December 23. The season concludes with Ward at 1,108 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns and Lewis at 1,074 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Both halfbacks averaged around six yards per carry in a strong collective rushing campaign.
“To start off as a pair, that was a goal we set out for each other as the season began,” Lewis said. “That was something he wanted to see me do, and it’s obviously something I wanted to see him do. Me being a young guy, the vision wasn’t as clear to me as it was to him because I haven’t been in those shoes. But he believed in me, so that was a big thing that I appreciate from him because he looked out for me, he gave me tips, he let me know that I could do it, as he did in his sophomore season.”
Another victim succumbs to San Diego State’s defense
San Diego State’s defense never took a game off in 2019. Here are some of the many impressive numbers produced by the Aztecs’ defense this season:
- 12.7 points allowed per game (4th in FBS)
- 75.5 rushing yards allowed per game (2nd in FBS)
- 287.7 yards allowed per game (5th in FBS)
- 1.4 interceptions per game (3rd in FBS)
- 2.1 takeaways per game (7th in FBS)
- All opponents held to 23 or fewer points
- Only one team scored 3 TDs on SDSU all year — Wyoming, in a 26-22 loss to the Aztecs
- CB Luq Barcoo tied for nation’s lead with 9 interceptions
Central Michigan entered the New Mexico Bowl averaging 31.9 points per contest. The Chippewas scored 38 points or more in all eight wins this season. Despite entering with one of the better offenses in the MAC and an offensive-minded coach in Jim McElwain, San Diego State’s defense struck once again and stifled another challenger.
The Aztecs forced five turnovers — including three interceptions — while holding Central Michigan to 11 points, well under its season average. Both of the Chippewas’ scoring plays arose from rare busted plays by the San Diego State defense — a 61-yard pass to Kalil Pimpleton in the first quarter and the 66-yard run by Kobe Lewis in the third. Outside of just two plays, the Aztec defense was on the money from kickoff to the trophy ceremony.
“We have a great man in charge of this defense,” defensive end Keshawn Banks said. “Coach (Rocky) Long, he prepares so much and he watches so much film and so much preparation goes into the scheme of our defense, and we just have 11 guys on the defensive side who want to go make plays every play, and when you have something like that, it builds something special.”
San Diego State’s defense delivered several major plays in the first half to prevent Central Michigan from having a shot in Albuquerque. Middle linebacker Kyahva Tezino opened the game by tipping a pass at the line of scrimmage and diving for an impressive interception, setting the Aztecs up in immediate scoring position.
Then, right before halftime, the Chippewas were situated on the 2-yard line with a chance to cut into the Aztecs’ 17-point lead. However, cornerback Luq Barcoo jumped the route in the end zone and intercepted his FBS-high ninth pass of the season, completely shutting the Chippewas out of the end zone in the opening half. Central Michigan finished the afternoon behind the yards category, 510-277, allowing San Diego State to coast to an easy victory.
“People are saying that was the game-setting play,” Tezino said on his first quarter interception. “So to me I’m just out there trying to make a play to win the game because it’s my last time playing with this team, so I’m just trying to go out a winner, and I’m so happy we did.”
Notable Stats and Facts
- San Diego State WR Jesse Matthews caught a 22-yard pass on the Aztecs’ opening drive of the game for his first career touchdown. He then followed it up with a 74-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Matthews finished with three catches, 111 yards, and a pair of touchdowns, splitting Offensive MVP honors with running back Jordan Byrd.
- Byrd, an Albuquerque native, set a career-high in rushing yards with 149 on 17 carries. Byrd’s only other 100-yard game in his Aztec career also occurred in his home state of New Mexico — a 118-yard, 2-touchdown effort against New Mexico State in September.
- Quinten Dormady’s 61-yard pass to Kalil Pimpleton on Central Michigan’s second drive of the game was the longest pass of the season for the Chippewas. Roughly 37% of Dormady’s passing output was on the play, and Pimpleton picked up 61 of his 71 receiving yards on the catch.
- Central Michigan has lost five consecutive bowl games, dating back to the 2014 Bahamas Bowl. The margins of defeat in the Chippewas’ last three bowls are 37, 23, and 45, and they’ve scored 15 or fewer points in all three. Central Michigan’s last bowl victory was over Western Kentucky in the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl under head coach Dan Enos.
- San Diego State’s 48 points were the most it scored all season — by a long shot — breaking its previous 2019-high of 31 points in a September win over New Mexico State. It was the second time the Aztecs scored over 30 this year, a mark which was eclipsed in the middle of the third quarter on a one-handed touchdown reception by wide receiver T.J. Sullivan (the first TD as an Aztec).
- In 14 years of the game’s existence, San Diego State’s 37-point victory was the second-largest in New Mexico Bowl history. Last season, Utah State (despite a 4-man coaching staff) defeated North Texas, 52-13, in Albuquerque. San Diego State finished the game in victory formation inside the 10-yard line, so the Aztecs could have feasibly set the record had they not elected to kneel the clock out.