The Battle for the Victory Cannon once again fell in favor of the Western Michigan Broncos (3-0) on Wednesday night, as they take the trophy home for the third-straight season over their blood rival the Central Michigan Chippewas (2-1), by a comfortable 52-44 margin in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
Western’s D’Wayne Eskridge, re-converted to a full-time wide receiver this past offseason, was electric in what could be his final Victory Cannon game appearance, hauling in four catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns in a career performance to help WMU put the hammer down, while Michigan State transfer La’Darius Jefferson (33 carries, 153 rush yards) played well in relief of Sean Tyler (15 carries, 97 yards, one touchdown,) who left the game with an injury. His status is unknown as of publication.
Early on at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, it looked to be Central Michigan who could emerge on top, as Kalil Pimpleton annointed the scoreboard first on a wildcat QB snap from 65 yards out to put CMU up 7-0 on just the third play from scrimmage. CMU would add on to the lead two drives later, with Kobe Lewis converting on a one-yard touchdown from the wildcat formation to push the lead to 14-0 following George Douglas’ intercpetion of a tipped Kaleb Eleby pass on the Broncos’ first offensive drive.
That was about all CMU would muster in the first half, as WMU came back in a fury, mounting a 35-point unanswered streak from the 7:31 mark of the first quarter to the 14:03 mark of the third quarter.
In that time, WMU picked up five offensive touchdowns, starting with two rushing scores, courtest of a Kaleb Eleby four-yard rushing touchdown and a Sean Tyler six-yard score, respectively. The first of two D’Wayne Eskridge recieving scores would give WMU the 21-14 lead from whcih they would never look back at the 14:54 mark of the second quarter, while a score fake spike hero Jaylen Hall from nine-yards out and a 24-yard boot from Thiago Kapps would further push the lead prior to halftime to put WMU up 31-14.
Eskridge would score once again two plays into the start of the second half on a 72-yard coverage bust to give WMU a nearly-insurmountable 38-14 lead.
The Chippewas would break the 35-point run with a highlight-reel Kalil Pimpleton 25-yard touchdown run on 4th and 11, as the former high school QB set up the pass out of the Wildcat formation, instead scrambling for the score at the 10:50 mark in the third quarter. Daniel Richardson would find tight end Joel Wilson on a play-action bootleg on the two-point conversion attempt to put the score at 38-22.
Western Michigan would once again try to shut the door on the CMU comeback effort with a one-play, 85-yard touchdown drive to— you guessed it— D’Wayne Eskridge on the ensuing drive, for his third and final touchdown of the night, to push the lead out to 45-22.
CMU’s furious comeback rally began in earnest at the 9:35 mark of the third quarter, with Kobe Lewis taking the handoff for a nice 69-yard touchdown run, and Kalil Pimpleton being in the right place at the right time for another two-point conversion after the initial pass was broken up by WMU’s defense to cut the Bronco lead down to 45-30.
Both teams exchanged punts over the next four drives, as WMU tried to run down the clock and Central tried an aerial attack, but couldn’t quite connect, before Jaylen Hall caught CMU cornerback Brian Edwards off the line for a 43-yard touchdown reception to give WMU more security on the scoreboard with a 52-30 margin.
The CMU offense came alive once again, as Pimpleton ran in for his third touchdown of the evening on a five-yard rush to get the Chippewas closer to completing a potential comeback. The attempted two-point conversion on a Daniel Richardson pass failed, but the WMU lead was again cut down to 52-36.
CMU executed an onside kick to try and get the ball back, with Aiden Jennings getting the yardage needed for a recovery, but the Broncos ultimately fell on the ball to take possession. The Chippewa defense buckled down, stalling out the Broncos after a six-play, 18-yard drive to force a 46-yard Thiago Kapps attempt, which sailed wide right, using all three timeouts in the process.
Starting at their own 29-yard line, Daniel Richardson (13-of-19, 157 yards) would go 5-of-6 for 71 yards through the air after struggling for much of the evening, finding Drayton Law for an incredible four-yard touchdown in double coverage in the corner of the endzone for his lone touchdown of the day with 2:32 remaining in the contest. Richardson found Keegan Cosseau for a two-point conversion to turn the game into a one-score margin at 52-44.
Jennings once again came out for the onside kick attempt, and once again got the required yardage for a potential recovery, but bounced the ball too high, as D’Wayne Eskridge skied to the air and brought down the bounce to seal the game for WMU.
In all, the two teams set rivalry records for combined offensive yards (1,034) and combined points (96) in Wednesday night’s effort.
Kaleb Eleby shone once again for Western, with a 12-of-20, 382 yard, five touchdown performance, with only the tipped INT. early on as a negative point.
If you were a fan of the running game, this game was for you, as three players on both sides picked up at least 97 yards on the evening, highlighted by Pimpleton’s seven carry, 103 yard, three touchdown evening for the Chippewas. Pimpleton, a receiver by trade, also had three receptions for 42 yards on the day. CMU’s Kobe Lewis also picked up 114 yards on 16 rushes to go along with two rushing touchdowns.
WMU’s defense got home against a normally stand-up CMU offensive line, which was without phenom guard Danny Motowski, picking up nine tackles-for-loss and four sacks from four different players on the Chippewas. For CMU, safety Devonni Reed and linebacker George Douglas led all defenders with 11 total tackles each, while DE/LB Troy Hairston picked up three tackles-for-loss and defensive tackle Mohammed Diallo and linebacker Troy Brown combined for a sack.
The Broncos will seek revenge on Northern Illinois (0-3) for the 2019 loss which took WMU out of the MAC West divison title race in a 12 p.m. EST matchup on Saturday, November 28th. The Chippewas will travel southeast to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to take on Michigan MAC rival Eastern Michigan on Black Friday, with kickoff set for 4 p.m. EST on Friday, November 27th.