In a game with massive stakes attached, the Central Michigan Chippewas (7-4, 5-2 MAC) did everything they needed to do and more in an explosive 37-17 victory over the homestanding Ball State Cardinals (5-6, 3-4 MAC) on Wednesday night.
CMU was in a must-win situation in order to stay apace with the NIU Huskies atop the MAC West; winning out (and NIU losing out) would have assured the Chippewas a trip to Detroit for the MAC Championship Game.
Early on, it looked like they were off to a slow start, as Ball State came out firing on their first drive of the game, utilizing runs up the middle and screen passes to find themselves hitting paydirt first, as Carson Steele took an outside run nine yards to the endzone, putting the Cardinals up 7-0 just over two minutes into the contest.
CMU would strike back after an exchange of punts, with Daniel Richardson finding a streaking JaCorey Sullivan down the middle of the field on a fade route for a 47-yard touchdown to tie the game back up at 7-7 with 9:08 remaining in the first quarter.
There would be more intrigue two drives later, as Daniel Richardson’s pass on second-and-two from the Ball State 30 would find itself floating into the hands of linebacker Clayton Coll, who was covering the middle of the field in coverage.
Ball State found themselves driving from there, getting all the way to their 49-yard line before Devonni Reed scooped up a tipped pass to intercept the ball and give CMU the ball back in favorable field position. Eight plays later, Lew Nichols III rushed into the endzone on a two-yard scamper to put CMU up 14-7.
Ball State answered back with a 37-yard field goal from long-kick specialist Jacob Lewis after their next drive stalled out right at the edge of the redzone to cut the lead back to 14-10 CMU with 11:50 remaining.
It wouldn’t take CMU eight plays to score points on the responding drive, as the Chippewas only needed 1:38 for Remi Simmons to find Kalil Pimpleton on the double reverse handoff— and for Daniel Richardson to throw a key block to set Pimpleton free— for a 50-yard receiving touchdown to once again put CMU up by two scores at 21-10.
The Cardinals would commit to the run for some ball control offense in reply, rushing for eight of their nine plays on the ensuing drive and getting all the way up to the CMU 32 before going for it on fourth-and-one with Carson Steele. He would be brought down behind the line by Jacques Bristol and Kumehnnu Gwilly, giving CMU the ball back.
Lew Nichols would rumble his way down the field for hsi second touchdown of the day just ten seconds later, giving CMU yet another three-score second quarter performance and putting the Chips up 28-10 with just under six minutes remaining.
Drew Plitt and Yo’Heinz Tyler capped off the best Ball State drive of the day, with the former finding the latter for a highlight reel endzone catch from six yards out to put the score at 28-17 CMU, putting the cherry on top of a 12-play, 81-yard drive lasting over 3:30.
That 28-17 CMU margin would be the score at the half, and from there, the weather took its toll, as the pouring rain and howling winds made getting points (or even yards) fairly hard at points. In fact, after both teams combined for 45 points in the first half, only nine points were scored over the remaining two quarters, all by Central.
Lew Nichols would pick up his third score of the day on a one-yard touchdown run to cap off a seven-play, 55-yard drive and put CMU back up 34-17 after the Marshall Meeder missed extra-point attempt.
Ball State showed some brief signs of life once again in the responding drive, getting tricky on a fourth-and-five from their own 39-yard line, as Australian punter Lucas Borrow picked up 21 rushing yards on a delayed punter run up the middle to put BSU at the CMU 40. The Cardinals wouldn’t be as lucky later on in the drive when going for it once again on fourth down from the CMU 37, as Amir Siddiq got to Drew Plitt on an attempted pass towards fullback Cody Rudy to force the incompletion and grant the ball back to Central.
Marshall Meeder would pick up on his only field goal attempt of the day with a 44-yard boot with 11:17 remaining in the game, ending the scoring account.
Offensively for Central, Daniel Richardson finished the day 20-of-25 for 283 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions through the air, while Lew Nichols beat his career-high for single-game rushing yards (set last week) with 219 yards on 32 carries for three touchdowns on the ground. Kalil Pimpleton led all receivers with seven receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown for CMU, while JaCorey Sullivan had three reception for 68 yards and a touchdown.
On the other side, Drew Plitt finished 21-of-39 for 171 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Carson Steele led the BSU rushing attack with 20 carries for 93 yards and the game-opening touchdown. Punter Lucas Borrow was the second-leading rusher with his 21-yard carry on the third-quarter punt fake. With no Justin Hall, Jayshon Jackson (61 yards) and Yo’Heinz Tyler (46 yards, one touchdown) took the receiving load for the Cardinals, with six receptions each. Carson Steele also had three receptions for 44 yards.
A total of six Chippewa defenders tied for the team lead in total tackles (6), including Devonni Reed (who picked up the lone CMU interception of the day and also had a pass break-up) and Kumehnnu Gwilly (who also had 1.5 tackles-for-loss, including one which resulted in a turnover-on-downs. Alonzo McCoy (five tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one forced fumble) was also a major contributor from the safety spot, while Tyrece Woods led the Chips with two sacks.
Ball State was led by Bryce Cosby and his 12 tackles and two tackles-for-loss defensively, with fellow linebacker Jaylin Thomas right behind with 11 tackles, a tackle-for-loss and an interception. Clayton Coll (six tackles) was responsible for the other interception, while JT Wahee, Christian Albright and Tavion Woodard each had a tackle-for-loss.
Despite the victory, CMU’s chances at the MAC West went up in smoke just about 30 minutes after the end of their contest, as NIU survived a furious Buffalo rally in the fourth quarter to win their game by a final score of 33-27 in overtime. The win secured the division for NIU based on head-to-head tiebreaker, as NIU won against CMU earlier in the season.
The Chips will look to secure an eight-win season and a rivalry trophy against rival Eastern Michigan on Black Friday, Nov. 26, at noon Eastern time in Mt. Pleasant on Senior Day.
Ball State will seek their sixth win to secure bowl eligibility next week against Buffalo— who is also looking to potentially secure bowl eligibility via APR scores— on Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. Eastern time.