There are always fireworks involved when Western Michigan (5-4, 2-3 MAC) and Central Michigan (5-4, 3-2) meet for the Battle of the Victory Cannon. The 2021 edition was no different.
After spotting Western Michigan two touchdowns to open the game, Kalil Pimpleton took over the second quarter and provided three scores for the Chippewas (two punt returns and a TD catch) en route to a 42-30 victory in Kalamazoo. It was only the Chippewas’ third win in the last 11 meetings between the two rivals, and their first win in the series since 2017— which, coincidentally, was also played at Waldo Stadium.
The Chippewas offense started well enough, taking the opening kickoff and driving 55 yards in six plays until the drive stalled out at the Broncos 20-yard line. The usually dependable Marshall Meeder missed the 39 yard field goal just to the right, and Central Michigan had nothing to show for a solid opening drive.
Western Michigan responded with a methodical, balanced drive, taking almost seven minutes off the clock and driving 80 yards in 15 plays. Kaleb Eleby completed all four of his pass attempts on the drive, but the Broncos leaned on the run game for the most part. Sean Tyler got the first three carries, and then La’Darius Jefferson picked up 14 yards on three carries of his own. Third back Jaxson Kincaide then got two carries to get WMU inside the Chippwas red zone. Tyler got the honors of finishing the drive off, and his 11-yard run gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead.
After two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against the Chippewas following the touchdown, the Broncos found themselves in the odd position of kicking off from the CMU 35-yard line. To take advantage, Western reached into their bag of tricks and pulled of a successful onsides kick. The successful recovery gave the Broncos the ball at the Chippewas 24-yard line.
Unfortunately, a disturbing trend re-emerged for Western Michigan on the ensuing drive, as Kaleb Eleby scrambled and fumbled on third down. The Chippewas recovered, with their defense having given them a huge stand.
Daniel Richardson found Kalil Pimpleton for 50 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, and Central Michigan was in business in Broncos territory. The drive would ultimately stall out at the WMU 32, and on fourth-and-11, Marshall Meeder trotted on and missed the field goal once again, this time from 50 yards out.
The Broncos offense went back to work from there, as Eleby went 4-of-5 on the drive, but it was once again the ground game that led the way. This time, it was La’Darius Jefferson who found the end zone on third-and-goal from the CMU 6. Western had a 14-0 lead and seemed to be in complete control.
The ensuing three drives after WMU jumped out to their early lead all resulted in three-and-outs, and it seemed like the defenses were finally starting to find a rhythm.
Then, Kalil Pimpleton took over.
After a Western Michigan three-and-out, the Broncos were forced to punt from their own 28-yard line. Pimpleton fielded the punt at the CMU 30, and weaved effortlessly through the oncoming traffic and along the sideline to core from 70 yards out and put CMU on the board, down 14-7.
The Broncos once again could not sustain anything on their next drive, and after picking up one first down were forced to punt again. Central Michigan needed only three plays to tie the game. Lew Nichols III did the heavy lifting, going 61 yards on the first play of the drive to get the Chippewas into the WMU red zone. Two plays later, Daniel Richardson found Pimpleton in the back of the end zone.
Western Michigan 14, Kalil Pimpleton 14.
With just over a minute to go in the first half, the Broncos took over at their own 25-yard line. Eleby found Corey Crooms for 28 yards on the first play of the drive to get the Broncos near midfield. After this first play, coach Tim Lester opted to be aggressive and try to get points before the half. That strategy backfired, as Eleby was sacked on two consecutive plays to set up a fourth-and-long with 23 seconds on the clock.
Unfortunately for Broncos fans, the WMU coaching staff did not learn their lesson the first time around, and punted directly to Pimpleton once again, just minutes after his previous punt return score.
After catching a booming kick from Nick Mihalic to the CMU 3, Pimpleton careened through the oncoming traffic once again, promptly running 97 yards to the house to give the Chippewas their first lead of the game. CMU had just scored three touchdowns in five minutes, all of them courtesy of their dynamic wide receiver.
The two offenses traded punts to open the third quarter. On their second drive of the second half, Kaleb Eleby found Jaylen Hall for a 47-yard hook up to get the Broncos into the CMU red zone. After failing to convert a third-and-seven, the Broncos settled for a field goal. Nick Mihalich’s 29-yard kick sailed true, and the Broncos had cut the lead to 21-17.
The Chippewas wasted no time responding. On the back of a 44-yard completion from Richardson to Dallas Dixon, CMU needed only four plays to find the end zone again, with an eight-yard touchdown run from Lew Nichols pushing the Chippewas to a 28-17 lead.
This score opened the proverbial flood gates, as all of a sudden it seemed neither defense could get a stop. Western Michigan started their next drive at their own 13, but covered the remaining 87 yards in only nine plays. On second-and-two from the CMU 31, Eleby found Corey Crooms down the sideline to get the Broncos back within four, 28-24.
Not to be outdone, the Chippewas went 68 yards in eight plays immediately after, with Richardson found TE Joel Wilson on three consecutive pass plays, with the third play in the sequence being a 41-yard connection to get CMU into the Broncos red zone.
In what turned out to be a pivotal moment in the game, Jim McElwain gambled on a fourth-and-one situation at the WMU 5, calling Nichols’ name once again. His risk would be rewarded, with the running back finding the end zone for the second time, and putting CMU up 35-24.
The Broncos offense took the field needing to respond, but the turnover bug bit the Broncos once again, as Eleby fumbled for the second time on the evening on a broken play scramble up the middle of the field. Gage Kreski forced the fumble, and George Douglas recovered for CMU, giving the Chippewas the ball at the Broncos 37.
After an incomplete pass on the first play of the drive, the Chippewas rode Lew Nichols deep into the red zone to the tune of seven consecutive carries. To put the cherry on top of a rivalry game victory, Jim McElwain reached into the bag of tricks and dialed up a trick play for RB Darius Bracy— a former high school option quarterback— finding a fellow former high school QB in TE Joel Wilson in the end zone on a jump pass touchdown to put the margin at 42-24 with 7:31 remaining.
WMU would make the scoreboard more respectable with a 86-yard drive culminating on a Sean Tyler touchdown run to put the score at 42-30 CMU after a failed two-point conversion at the 5:41 mark, but wouldn’t get another chance to try to score again, with Kaleb Eleby throwing a pass in the direction of CMU LB Troy Brown Jr. to essentially end the game.
This game represents yet another missed opportunity for Western Michigan. Despite outgaining CMU 445-389 and winning the time of possession battle 34:50-25:10, the Broncos couldn’t find a way to win this game. Losing the turnover battle 2-0 certainly doesn’t help, nor does giving up two touchdowns on special teams.
The Broncos offense, normally efficient and high-powered, went through some stretches in this game where they just didn’t seem to know what they wanted to do. Defensively, the Broncos had no answers for Central Michigan RB Lew Nichols III (26 carries, 163 yards, two scores) or Pimpleton (five receptions, 115 yards, one score, in addition to the two punt return scores). You would think those two would be at the top of the defensive scouting report, but the Broncos defense could not contain them.
Daniel Richardson had a solid if unspectacular performance for the Chippewas, completing 10-of-18 passes for 230 yards and a score. For the Broncos, Eleby finished 22-of-36 for 276 yards and a score. Corey Crooms led the way for the Broncos receiving corps, with seven receptions for 118 yards and a TD.
Both of these teams entered this game at 2-2 in the MAC and with hopes of still reaching Ford Field.
The Broncos can now all but put those dreams to rest, as a 2-3 record with three losses to division rivals will all but eliminate Tim Lester’s squad. Central Michigan, on the other hand, now sits at 3-2 and is only one game behind division leader Northern Illinois. The Chippewas finish the season with games against division rivals Ball State and Eastern Michigan. Central Michigan has an opportunity to earn their way back to the MAC Championship game.
This game, more than any other this year, makes you feel the frustrations that Broncos fans have had since Tim Lester took over in 2017. This is a team that has as much talent as anyone in the conference. And yet, for the fourth consecutive year, a once promising season seems to have taken a turn for the worse.
Both teams will be back in action next week. Central Michigan takes on a Kent State fresh from beating the upstart NIU Huskies for an intriguing cross division match up next Wednesday. Kick time has yet to be determined for the game at Kelly-Shorts Stadium.
Western Michigan will welcome Akron to Waldo Stadium next Tuesday at a yet to be determined time. The Broncos will be looking to get back on track, though the Zips cannot be overlooked after their strong performance in a 31-25 defeat to Ball State on Tuesday night.