All hope seemed lost for the Chippewas with 20 seconds remaining in the first half, as Alex McNulty kicked a 43-yard field goal through the uprights to put the visiting Bulls up 24-7. The score added onto Buffalo’s 17-point unanswered streak, with all the points coming in the second frame.
If football were a 30 minute game, the Bulls would have won after Daniel Richardson’s Hail Mary attempt to Cade Conley fell well short of the endzone. However, football is played for two halves, with each half containing two 15-minute quarters.
That’s where the story of this contest between the Central Michigan Chippewas (4-6, 3-3 MAC West) and the Buffalo Bulls (5-5, 4-2 MAC East) took one of the wildest turns of the 2022 season.
Bert Emanuel Jr., a true freshman quarterback who started the season as the third signal-caller on the depth chart, would start the second half with a blazing 75-yard touchdown to slim the lead down to 24-14 on the very first play from scrimmage and never relinquish the job, finishing the game with 293 rushing yards and three touchdowns to complete an incredible comeback effort.
Emanuel Jr.’s performance was truly historic, surpassing Silas Massey (1996 vs. Kent State) to place fourth all-time in CMU history in single game rushing yards, while also rushing for the most yards by a QB at the FBS level since 2019. Emanuel’s 293 yards was also the first time a CMU player ran for over 200 yards or scored three touchdowns since Lew Nichols III ran for 219 yards and three touchdowns against Ball State on Nov. 17, 2021.
It was a result which came from desperation, as the first half was anything but a fairy tale for the homestanding Chippewas.
Buffalo came out strong to start the game, marching right down the field on a 14-play, 71-yard drive lasting nearly seven minutes before converting it for a Mike Washington Jr. one-yard rush to open up the scoring account at 7-0 with 7:53 remaining in the first quarter.
The Chippewas responded right away, with starting safety De’Javion Stephney returning the ensuing kickoff for 60 yards to set up shop at the Buffalo 39-yard line. Daniel Richardson would start the game under center, but it was Stephney would find the endzone from one yard out six plays later— this time as a running back— to tie the game at 7-all.
The teams exchanged three-and-outs from there, but it would be Buffalo who would get on the board next, taking a Luke Elzinga punt at their own 10-yard line and spending 9:48 of game clock advancing the ball over 16 plays before Ron Cook Jr. broke out for a 25-yard scamper untouched to out Buffalo back on top of the scoreboard at 14-7 with 9:48 to go in the first half.
The Bulls would score again on their next offensive drive after forcing CMU into a three-and-out, this time on a 30-yard Al-Jay Henderson untouched run up the middle to get up to 21-7.
Late in the second quarter, it seemed as if CMU had come up with a potential interception in the endzone, as Ronald Kent Jr. was in coverage on Justin Marshall and got his hands on the ball, but replay turned the call into an incomplete pass, as Marshall was deemed to have possession, but with a foot out of bounds. The drive would end in a field goal two plays later, putting the score at 24-7.
As part of their halftime adjustments, CMU made a decision at quarterback, opting to kill the Richardson-Emanuel Jr. rotation and keep Jase Bauer (who had rushed for 218 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games) on the sidelines, giving Emanuel Jr. the reins for the second half.
He delivered on the very first play, bolting through the middle of the Buffalo interior for a 75-yard touchdown to bring the score to 24-10. The Chippewas got the ball back just a few moments later, as the Bulls opted to go for it on their own 37-yard line and failed, giving the Chips short field.
Emanuel threw the first pass attempt of his career in the direction of tight end Cade Conley, who fell forward and stretched out for a 22-yard reception to put CMU right on the goal line. The play was reviewed, with the ball seemingly over the plane, but ultimately upheld. Daniel Richardson came back into the game on fourth-and-goal to toss it towards Carlos Carriere on the slant route, but Buffalo’s Daymond Williams tipped the pass, killing the drive.
The CMU defense pinned its ears back and forced Buffalo into a three-and-out, granting the offense another opportunity for points. The Chips would eventually settle for a 40-yard field goal from Marshall Meeder to cut the gap to 24-17 with 5:02 remaining in the third quarter to bring the game within a possession.
After another Buffalo drive ended in a punt, Emanuel Jr. came back into the game and once again wowed the assembled crowd, tripping on the turf, then making an aware play to spin up off the ground and burst forward for an 87-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 24-24 with 1:13 remaining in the third quarter.
Suddenly playing from a tie situation, Buffalo had to strap in and establish their game pace.
They started off promising enough, reeling off a few nice rushes and an 11-yard pass to Al-Jay Henderson on third-and-10 to get to the CMU 41-yard line. On second-and-11 two plays later, Cole Snyder made a crucial error, rolling out of the pocket and making a forced throw in the direction of Cole Harrity. The route was jumped, and CMU linebacker Justin Whiteside came down with the interception, killing off a 10-play drive which took nearly five minutes off the clock.
A major bug-a-boo would emerge for Central, however, as the team with the worst turnover margin in the NCAA would fumble the ball on the very next play to give the ball right back to the Bulls. Buffalo eventually converted the turnover for a 54-yard field goal from Alex McNulty to take the lead back at 27-24 with 9:42 remaining.
That’s when Bert Emanuel Jr. once again put the game in his hands.
Emanuel Jr. accounted for all 54 yards of the drive which ultimately gave CMU their first lead of the night, with rushes of 17 yards, 12 yards and 21 yards all helping to set up a one-yard rushing touchdown to put the Chippewas up 31-27 with just over seven minutes left.
Buffalo would get one last possession to try and tie the game back up, but on fourth-and-one at the CMU 24-yard line, Al-Jay Henderson was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage by Trey Jones and Kyle Moretti to turn the ball over on downs, ending a 10-play, 56-yard drive.
Emanuel would run the ball out from there, as a six-yard rush to pick up a first down drew a penalty flag for a horsecollar tackle to effectively seal the game.
Emanuel went 1-of-3 for 22 yards in addition to his 295 yards rushing, giving him 317 total yards on the day. Daniel Richardson, who played over much of the first half, finished 7-of-14 for 95 yards. De’Javion Stephney had CMU’s opening rushing score, while Cade Conley was CMU’s leading receiver, with three receptions for 61 yards.
Trey Jones, the hero of the game on fourth-and-one, led the Chippewas defensive effort with 16 total tackles and a tackle-for-loss, while defensive end Thomas Incoom had a monumental 13 tackles, including three tackles-for-loss and a sack on the day. Ronald Kent Jr, was credited with three pass break-ups, while Justin Whiteside (six tackles) notched an interception.
For Buffalo, Cole Snyder finished 19-of-32 for 191 yards and an interception, picking up 27 rushing yards. Ron Cook (22 carries, 100 yards, touchdown) was the leading back with Mike Washington Jr. (seven carries, 41 yards, touchdown) injured early in the contest. Al-Jay Henderson had 72 yards on 16 carries, scoring once. Justin Marshall (four catches, 45 yards) led the receiving game.
Shaun Dolac, the NCAA’s leading solo tackler, picked up nine more solo stops (13 total) to lead the Bulls defense. His performance put him over the 100-tackle mark for the season. Elijah Blades and Keyshawn Cobb each had a tackle-for-loss, with Cobb also picking up a sack and a fumble forced.
With the win, CMU remains in the running for the postseason, needing to win out against Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan to clinch eligibility. Winning against both WMU and EMU would also let the Chippewas retain the Victory Cannon Trophy and the claim the Michigan MAC Trophy for the first time since 2019.
With the defeat, Buffalo no longer controls their destiny in the MAC East with two conference losses. They’ll need BGSU to lose to Ohio and win their remaining games against Akron and Kent State in order to have a shot at the division title.
CMU will play Western Michigan next Wednesday at 7 or 8 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN2, while Buffalo will get a reprieve before playing Akron next Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS Sports Network.