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2021 Mid-American Conference Football Week 1 Game Recap: Missouri 34, Central Michigan 24

The loss will be a tough one to swallow for the Chippewas, as sloppy play and mental errors result in a comeback effort which fell short.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Central Michigan Chippewas (0-1) were driving late in the game, down 10, looking to score a touchdown for pride with 20 seconds left. Jake Sirmon (23—of-46, 295 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) dropped back to pass, scrambled, and had nowhere to go, with Mizzou’s Mekhi Wingo dragging him down for a loss of seven yards, ending the game.

It was the eighth sack allowed by the normally reliable offensive line, and a play which was indicative of the flow of the second half, as Missouri (1-0) would weather the early CMU storm to take home a 34-24 victory.

The game started off with a bang, as Connor Bazelak (21-of-31, 257 yards, two touchdowns) ripped a pass to WR D’ionte Smith for 63 yards, and RB Tyler Badie (25 carries, 197 yards, one touchdown) ripped out a 12-yard run to put the Tigers up 7-0 just 29 seconds into the proceedings.

CMU marched down the field on their first possession as well, capping off a five-play, 75 yard drive with a pass from Sirmon to JaCorey Sullivan (eight receptions, 102 yards, two touchdowns) from seven yards out to even the score at 7 apiece at the 12:34 mark of the first quarter. Sirmon came out on fire, going 4-of-4 on the drive, picking up 73 of the 75 yards through the air.

From there, both teams settled into their rhythms, exchanging six punts over seven drives, with a promising CMU drive killed off due to an interception on a Sirmon overthrow, the first of several dangerous attempts on the day.

It was the Chippewas who finally broke the scoring drought, with Lew Nichols III following the blocks and tearing through the hole on the right side of the field for an 18-yard score to give CMU the 14-7 lead at the 6:08 mark in the second quarter.

On the next possession, the Tigers seemed to have stalled out on a fourth-and-three attempt from the CMU 32-yard line when CMU DB Donte Kent broke up the attempted pass, but a late flag for pass interference on Kent gave Mizzou new life, as Bazelak would find Badie on a wheel route for a 30-yard strike to tie the game back up at 14-all.

The Tigers would tack on a 53-yard field goal by Harrison Melvis before the end of the half to take a 17-14 lead into the locker room at halftime.

If CMU had given up some momentum towards the end of the first half, they certainly found their mojo in the third quarter, as Troy Brown broke up a Bazelak pass on fourth and 1 at the CMU 23 to give the Chippewas an opportunity to take the lead back.

CMU started off on the right foot, handing the ball to Darius Bracy for a 47-yard run on second-and-17 and Lew Nichols III finding 7 more yards to set up CMU at Missouri’s 29 yard line, but another errant throw by Sirmon resulted in another interception, the second drive to end in such fashion.

The teams exchanged punts before Missouri would score another touchdown, once again off a CMU penalty, to add to their 24-14 lead when Elijah Young spelled Badie for a 32-yard rushing touchdown at the 1:57 mark in the third quarter. Missouri had previously stalled out near their own 40, but Dishon McNary was called for a pass interference penalty, putting Mizzou at the CMU 40. Another CMU penalty, this time for offsides, would eventually set up the scoring play.

CMU would respond with their best sustained drive of the game, pushing the ball down 73 yards over 11 plays in 4:59 of game time, mostly via the run, with five of the seven play selections being on the ground.

Lew Nichols set up CMU inside goal line range with a 19-yard scamper, before Sirmon scrambled on a broken play for five more yards. Sirmon took a bit hit, and had to be substituted on a vital third-and-goal situation from the six-yard line. Daniel Richardson, the 2020 starter for CMU, didn’t let the SEC crowd get to him, thowing a wonderful teardrop pass to JaCorey Sullivan in the corner of the endzone over the safety to get CMU within three points. A Marshall Meeder PAT would bring the score to 24-21 Mizzou with 11:52 remaining.

Missouri came out looking for blood, picking up 61 yards in seven plays, highlighted by two back-to-back Badie runs totalling 34 yards. On second-and-9 from the CMU 14, Trey Jones was flagged for defensive pass interference on TE Niko Hea in the end zone, moving the ball to the CMU 2. Hea would go on to catch the touchdown on the next play, catching it over Devonni Reed (who nearly picked it off) in coverage.

An exchange of punts and field goals from Meeder (51 yards) and Melvis (44 yards) would bring the game to its final resolution.

Offensively for the Chips, Nichols led the way, with 19 carries for 135 yards and a touchdown. Bracy was directly behind, with 61 yards on three carries, while true freshman Marion Lukes also got in on the action with five rushes for 44 yards.

Three Chippewas had at least four receptions, with Kahlil Pimpleton (four receptions, 38 yards, 0-1 passing) kept in check, while Nichols (four receptions, 40 yards) and Dallas Dixon (five receptions, 83 yards) were also contributors.

Defensively, Devonni Reed and Troy Brown led all CMU tacklers with eight total tackles (six solo stops) and 1.5 tackles-for-loss apiece. Thomas Incoom had a hellacious debut for the Chippewas after transferring in from Valdosta State in the offseason, picking up three tackles, three tackles-for-loss and one sack, while LaQuan Johnson (two tackles-for-loss) had a nice return to action after missing all of 2020 with an ACL injury. John Wesley Whiteside also recorded a sack in his CMU debut.

The Tigers offense, outside of Badie and the 63-yard pass to open the game, was largely kept in check, with Badie and Hea scoring the only touchdowns through the air. Keke Chism led the aerial attack with four receptions for 47 yards, while Chance Luper (three receptions, 35 yards) and D’ionte Smith only nabbing one reception for six yards after his game-opening reception.

The Tigers ate up the CMU offensive line, collecting eight sacks between seven players, as well as 13 tackles-for-loss. LB Blaze Alldredge paced all tacklers, with 10 total tackles (eight solo), six tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks and a QB hit. Detroit native Devin Nicholson also figured into the defensive effectiveness, with seven tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack. Jaylon “JC” Carlie and Akayleb Evans notched interceptions for the Tigers.

CMU’s Luke Elzinga had five punts for 196 yards (39.7 net average), with one punt inside the 20, while Mizzou’s Grant McKinnis had six punts for 209 yards (41.8 net average), with five of those punts downed inside the 20.

CMU will play Robert Morris in their home opener on Saturday, Sept. 11 at 3 p.m. Eastern.