It was a must-win contest for the Central Michigan Chippewas (2-5, 1-2 MAC West), who traveled down to Ohio to face the Akron Zips (1-6, 0-3 MAC East) for the first of their cross-division games.
Win they did, though it wasn’t quite in the way most expected.
The Chippewa defense, which had melted down in key situations throughout the fourth quarter, found themselves a big break the form of a botched run-pass option exchange between Akron QB DJ Irons and RB Clyde Price III, as defensive end Thomas Incoom scooped up the ball and scored what would be the game-winning touchdown with just over two minutes remaining.
The first indication this might be a strange 60 minutes of game happened an hour before the game, as it was announced that CMU’s starting running back Lew Nichols would be unavailable to play. The second indication came on the third play from scrimmage, when DJ Irons found 53 yards of open grass down the center of the field to give Akron the first score of the day, going up 7-0 early.
Marion Lukes would step up to give CMU the burst of offense they had been looking for in recent weeks posting up three total touchdowns in reply to the initial Akron broadside. The first score, which would be set up by an eight-yard rush by kicker Josh Rolston on a fake field goal attempt, helped sandwich a highlight-reel 37-yard reception score to give CMU the 14-7 lead at halftime,with another short rushing touchdown pushing the total to 21-7 in favor of the Chippewas in the third quarter closing his account on the day.
From there, the Zips put together some put-together drives to climb back into it over the course of the second half, with DJ Irons finding Shocky Jacques-Louis for an acrobatic 18-yard scoring strike to cap off a 13-play, 80-yard drive and a Clyde Price III rush from one yard out aided in part by a number of CMU defensive penalties to bring the score back to 21-21 with 6:48 remaining.
Akron would force a stop on the next defensive drive to possess the ball, thanks to a forced fumble on first-and-10 which lost CMU over 20 scrimmage yards, and took over on their own 48-yard line with a chance to win the game with a field goal or touchdown.
Unfortunately for the Zips, a promising drive ended in a mind-numbing mistake which went the other way, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It was a tough lesson in learning how not to lose for a team still trying to turn their culture around.
In-between the back-and-forth streaks of scoring was some frustrating football, as both teams combined to go 0-of-3 for field goals, 9-of-27 on third-downs, and had four combined fumbles, with several on special teams.
Lukes was the game’s marquee player in his starting debut for the Chippewas, with 160 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to pair with four receptions, 72 yards and a touchdown, which led all rushers and receivers.
Daniel Richardson went 13-of-18 for 138 yards and one touchdown in a day which clearly de-emphasized his arm, but he also fumbled once on the fourth-quarter fumble on CMU’s penultimate drive.
Newcomer Jarvarius Sims and fellow linebacker Dakota Cochran led the Chips in total tackles with eight in this contest, with Thomas Incoom pulling down three tackles-for-loss and the defensive touchdown. Nine Chippewas contributed to CMU’s seven sacks on the day, with linebacker Kyle Moretti bringing the QB down for a team-leading 1.5 sacks. Donte Kent had three pass break-ups.
For Akron, DJ Irons finished 25-of-38 for 255 yards and a passing touchdown, while getting the 53-yard rushing touchdown at the start of the game, leading all rushers with 12 net yards (though he had 67 gained prior to sacks.) The transfer duo of Shocky Jacques-Louis (five catches, 70 yards, one score) and Daniel George (five catches, 77 yards) proved effective, while Clyde Price III had seven receptions for 39 yards, a receiving score and a rushing score.
Old warhorse Bubba Arslanian once again led all tacklers, with 13 total tackles to go along with a sack and three tackles-for-loss for Akron. Jaden Woods was right behind Arslanian with 10 stops. Zach Morton had two tackles-for-loss and sack, while Charles Amankwaa picked up three pass break-ups, including one on a pivotal third-down play in the endzone, for his first statistical output of the season.
CMU will prepare to host the Bowling Green Falcons for their second-straight cross-division game of the season next week, while Akron will fight Kent State for the Wagon Wheel Trophy.