The stakes were make-or-break for both teams coming into this league match between the Central Michigan Chippewas (6-4, 4-2 MAC) and the Kent State Golden Flashes (5-5, 4-2 MAC.)
With both teams coming off emotional wins the previous week, and needing to maintain that momentum to keep their respective divsional hopes alive, the Chips and Flashes put on a show under the Wednesday night lights.
Kent State respected Kalil Pimpleton’s return game prowess at the start of the game after his two special teams touchdowns agaisnt Western Michigan last week, choosing to squib kick on the opening kickoff, handing the Chippewas the ball near their own 40-yard line.
CMU managed to find initial success through the air, but a sack on third down took them out of field goal range, forcing CMU to punt early. After getting stuffed on some early plays, the Flashes converted on a third-down and turned on the afterburners, notching the first score of the game on a 37-yard play action pass from Dustin Crum to tight end Kris Leach on a broken coverage to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive.
CMU would go three-and-out on their ensuing drive, which was set up by loss of yards on a botched wide receiver pass play in the early downs. Kent State went to work immediately, attacking the outside edges in the run game on cracks and stretch plays, capping off another successful drive with a Marquez Cooper touchdown from two yards out to end a 12-play, 75-yard drive to go up 14-0 at the 3:48 mark of the first quarter.
The ensuing kickoff saw chaos, as Andrew Glass kicked the ball directly into the chest of a CMU upman, with the Flashes falling on top of the live ball to retain possession. The CMU defense would stand tall and force a punt, with a pass breakup by Donte Kent on third down to kill the drive.
It was here where Central Michigan’s offense took matters into their own hands. The key moment which sparked CMU’s comeback rally was Jim McElwain electing to go for it on fourth-ad-one from the Kent State 22-yard line. Lew Nichols III took the handoff, one play after being stuffed short of the sticks, and converted on an eight-yard run. After getting CMU to the KSU one-yard line on a 12-yard gain, Nichols would find paydirt to get CMU on the board 14-6.
Kent State once again returned to the run game to try and gain offensive control, highlighted by an 18-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Later in the drive, however, the CMU defensive line collapsed their assignments and interfered with the handoff, as Troy Hairston and John Wesley Whiteside teamed up on the fumble and Troy Brown recovered to give the Chips the ball back.
CMU made them pay, with Daniel Richardson finding Dallas Dixon for a touchdown from 18 yards out to cap off a seven-play, 52-yard drive. Marshall Meeder would miss the extra point attempt, and CMU would stay trailing 14-13.
But a golden opportunity presented itself on the next Kent State possession, as Alonzo McCoy stripped Dante Cephus of the ball on what could have been a first-down conversion along the sideline, with Justin Whiteside recovering to give CMU the ball once again.
The Chippewas would take control of the offensive pace, ramming the ball down the Flashes defense over a 10-play, 82 yard drive over 4:49 of game clock before posting a tight end screen touchdown to Joel Wilson from 17 yards out. The two-point attempt, which initially looked good on a sideline-straddling Kalil Pimpleton falling catch, was ruled an illegal touch, putting the score at 19-14 with just under 3:30 remaining.
A Kent State three-and-out later, and CMU found themselves in the endzone once again, this time on a 19-yard toss from Richardson to Dallas Dixon, set up by a highlight reel 29-yard reception on one foot by Kalil Pimpleton to get the score to 26-14 CMU advantage.
Kent State would tack on a 32-yard field goal from Andrew Glass as the final seconds ticked off to stop the 26-point unanswered streak, putting the halftime score at 26-17 in favor of the homestanding Chippewas.
The Flashes started with the ball in the second half, but were unable to produce anything from it, with a three-and-out resulting in a punt from the CMU 29.
As they had throughout the second quarter, the Chippewas came out thumping, with Marion Lukes getting the action started on a 20-yard screen pass, followed by a jet touch pass by Wildcat QB Darius Bracy to Kalil Pimpleton for a 16-yard gain to set up CMU at the KSU 35. Lew Nichols would reel off runs of 11 yards and 23 yards before finding the endzone for the second time, putting CMU up to a commanding 33-17 margin at the 10:07 mark of the third quarter.
The Flashes responded quickly on a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive thanks to Dante Cephus getting behind the broken CMU coverage for a 51-yard reception to trim the lead to 33-24.
CMU would once again slow down the game with an eight-play, 64-yard drive before finding Joel Wilson on a tricky tight end screen from 21 yards out to once again put the Flashes behind by three scores at 40-24.
Kent State, in extremely uncustomary fashion, displayed their own version of a ball control offense in an effort to score. After getting in to the redzone on a Keshuun Abrams screen pass for 24 yards, the ball once again found the ground on second-and-seven from the CMU 12-yard line, this time on an errant snap. CMU accepted a penalty for illegal formation on the loss of yards, granting a second-and-12 on the replay of down. Crum would recover for an 11-yard scramble on a broken play, eventually setting up a one-yard touchdown run by Marquez Cooper to end a 14-play, 75-yard drive lasting just over five minutes. The two-point try was no good, putting the score at 40-30 CMU.
The Kent State defense looked inspired on the next drive, seemingly forcing a CMU three-and-out at the KSU 44 after stuffing Lew Nichols for a no-gain on third-and-two. However, McElwain opted once again to go for it, and Nichols converting on a four-yard run. Five plays later, Lew Nichols made several tacklers miss and floored another on a truck stick en route to a 12-yard rushing touchdown. The Meeder extra point put an end to the 10-play, 52-yard drive to put CMU up by three scores again at 47-30.
Kent State, needing a touchdown desperately, gained 25 yards on five plays to force a fourth-and-two at the CMU 44-yard line. With no choice but to go for it, Xavier Williams tried to get a stretch play on the outside, but was met instead by Devonni Reed, who dragged him down for no gain to turn the ball over.
The last score of the day would come on a CMU punt, but not in a way many would expect.
Luke Elzinga punted the ball from the KSU 44 after a stalled drive with 4:05 remaining, and it would find the back of JD Awolowo, who was blocking Donte Kent from downing the ball. Kent would quickly break away from the block and recover the ball at the KSU one-yard line, giving CMU prime field position once again. Lew Nichols would score on the next play, giving the back from Detroit his fourth score of the day, and putting the score at its eventual final tally of 54-30 in favor of CMU.
The result was CMU’s first game scoring 50 points or more since Oct. 17, 2017, when they won over Ball State by a final score of 56-9.
Daniel Richardson was effective at the QB spot for Central, going 21-of-27 for 268 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions on the day, while halfback Darius Bracy went 1-of-1 for 16 yards.
Lew Nichols was the star of the show once again for CMU, toting the rock 43 times for 215 yards and four touchdowns to pace all rushers, and even added four receptions for 33 yards. It was Nichols’ seventh performance of 135+ yards on the season, and fifth-straight. Nichols is now up to 1,297 yards and 11 touchdowns in nine games.
CMU spread the ball around in this one, with Joel Wilson (two receptions, 38 yards) and Dallas Dixon (four receptions, 60 yards) both grabbing two touchdowns apiece, while JaCorey Sullivan led the receiving room with five catches for 61 yards. Kalil Pimpleton had four receptions for 56 yards.
Gage Kreski once again led CMU in total tackles, with 10. Fellow safety Devonni Reed was second with eight tackles and .5 tackles-for-loss, while linebacker Troy Brown and cornerback Donte Kent each had seven tackles apiece. Kent led all CMU defensive players with four pass break-ups, while Alonzo McCoy, Troy Brown and Troy Hairston all collected one apiece. Jacquez Bristol, Amir Siddiq and Justin Whiteside each collected a sack on the evening, with Whiteside also recovering a fumble.
For Kent State, Dustin Crum, a preseason MAC Offensive Player of the Year favorite, finished 28-of-38 for 322 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, adding 33 yards on nine carries. Marquez Cooper led all Kent State rushers with 88 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, while receiver Ja’Shun Poke had three jet sweeps for 33 yards.
Dante Cephus had five receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown to lead all receivers on the day, with Keshuun Abram (five receptions, 55 yards) and Syracuse transfer Nyheim Johnson (six receptions, 50 yards) also atop the table. Tight end Kris Leach had the other receiving touchdown, finishing the day with two receptions for 40 yards.
Defensively, three Flash defenders ended the game with double-digit tackles, as Nico Bolden (12 total tackles), AJ Musolino (11 tackles, one tackle-for-loss) and CJ Holmes (10 tackles) all hit the mark. Musolino also picked up KSU’s lone sack of the night, while Capone Blue, Elvis Hines and Nico Bolden all collected pass break-ups.
On special teams, Ja’Shaun Poke logged 130 return yards, including a long of 50 yards for Kent State, while Remi Simmons (three returns, 44 yards) and Myles Bailey (29-yard return) split duties for CMU.
CMU’s Marshall Meeder had no field goal attempts, but went 6-of-7 on point-after attempts. Kent State’s Andrew Glass went 1-of-1 in field goals, and was 3-of-3 on point-after attempts.
The win was vital for CMU’s hopes of keeping pace in the MAC West, as they must win out— and NIU must lose out— if they hope to take the division crown. They’ll face Ball State in Muncie on Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. Eastern in their next contest.
A loss was the last thing Kent State needed this deep into the conference slate. While they haven’t lost to any MAC East teams, they’re still 4-2 in the MAC and now tied with the Miami RedHawks for possession of the division lead. Kent State will get an extended rest ahead of their contest with Akron on Saturday, Nov. 20, at noon Eastern time.