It was not a very pretty win for the Central Michigan Chippewas (3-6, 2-3 MAC), but the way a win looks this time of year ultimately doesn’t matter as much as the result, as the Chips took down the Northern Illinois Huskies (2-7, 1-4 MAC) 35-22 under the Wednesday night lights.
The result continued several streaks for CMU, as the Chippewas improved to 11-1 in November under head coach Jim McElwain since taking over head coaching duties in 2019, while also moving to 7-3 over the last 10 contests against NIU since 2013. The result also put CMU at 11-4 in weeknight games since 2012, putting the Chips at a league-best .733 win percentage.
Wednesday’s bout was a must-win game for both sides, as a seventh loss would ensure elimination from both the MAC West divisional race and a potential bowl bid. NIU, the preseason favorite to win the West, becomes the second team in the MAC to lose their chance at the postseason, following Akron.
The Huskies, who possessed the ball to start the game, set the tone early, taking a risky gamble on fourth-and-one from their own 44-yard line with a Wildcat snap to running back Antario Brown. The play lost yards, with CMU safety Trey Jones picking up the tackle-for-loss to give CMU the ball in great field position.
CMU would convert this turnover-on-downs into a score, as QB Jase Bauer powered through the middle of the line for a six-yard touchdown run to open up the scoring account at 7-0 CMU with 10:30 to go in the first quarter.
This would something of a recurring pattern, with NIU giving the ball away on two separate turnover-on-downs inside CMU territory, and CMU converting those chances into points, with two Daniel Richardson passes to Joel Wilson and Tyson Davis putting the Chippewas up 21-0 with 7:38 to go in the second quarter.
All 21 of CMU’s first-half points were scored off their forced turnover-on-downs, with their other four drives ending in a punt, a Daniel Richardson pass tipped to Jordan White for an interception, a Lew Nichols fumble recovered by Nick Rattin, and a missed field goal attempt from 51 yards out by Marshall Meeder to end the half.
The third quarter is where the Huskies came alive.
Leaning largely on the unproven arm of fourth-string, preferred walk-on quarterback Nevan Cremascoli, the Huskies went on the march, knocking the CMU defense in the mouth with an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped off by Cremascoli’s first career passing touchdown on a 10-yard pass to Liam Soraghan to put NIU on the board at 21-7 at the 6:29 mark of the third quarter.
The Chippewas responded in kind on the next drive, picking up 75 yards on 13 plays using three different quarterbacks in rotation to move the ball, before Jase Bauer called his own number once again from seven yards out to push the CMU lead up to 28-7.
Playing with urgency, the Huskies picked up 70 yards on just four plays, with Cremascoli getting the CMU defense to bite on a heavy-set play action pass before finding tight end Tristien Tewes for an easy-as-pie 34-yard score to pull it to 28-13. The Huskies boldly went for two, with wide receiver Shermar Thornton getting the ball on a jet sweep and passing to Cremascoli in the direction of the endzone to puck up the two-fer and put the score at 28-15.
NIU wasn’t done there; on CMU’s next possession, Desmond Taylor knocked the ball out of Lew Nichols’ hands and Izayah Green-May scooped it up for a 57-yard defensive touchdown, suddenly bringing the score to 28-22 after the extra point attempt with 11:31 remaining.
The Huskies defense stood on its head once again, having to take the field after scoring a touchdown on the previous possession, gifting the offense the ball back after forcing a punt on a five-play drive.
The issue, however, was the punt being downed at the NIU one-yard line. The Huskies had difficulty gaining yards on the first two downs, pressing Cremascoli into duty on third-and-long. Thomas Incoom stripped Cremascoli on the endzone sack, and Kyle Moretti fell on the fumble to give CMU a decisive 35-22 lead with 7:17 remaining.
The Huskies would get one last serious chance to score after forcing a fumble on a Bert Emanuel Jr. scramble with 3:14 remaining, but Cremascoli was pressured into throwing a poor ball on the run and Trey Jones— the player who started the game with the fourth-down TFL— intercepted the pass to seal the deal.
The Chippewas went with an ultra-rare quarterback committee vs. NIU, with three signal-callers getting serious playing time.
Starting QB Daniel Richardson was the primary passing threat, finishing 13-of-22 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Richardson was in rotation with backup QB Jase Bauer, who served as CMU’s primary runner, picking up 104 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, while going 3-of-4 for 36 yards in the air. Bert Emanuel Jr. made his FBS debut in a relief role, with 30 yards on six carries, fumbling once.
Lew Nichols returned for the first time in two games, finishing second on the team with 92 yards on 28 carries, fumbling twice. No receiver for CMU had more than three receptions (Joel Wilson, Carlos Carriere), with Jalen McGaughy’s 36 yards leading the Chips passing offense, which had five receivers picking up 30+ yards. Joel Wilson and Tyson Davis hauled in the receiving touchdowns.
Kyle Moretti finished with nine tackles and a defensive score to lead CMU, while Trey Jones starred with eight tackles, a tackle-for-loss, a pass break-up and an interception. Thomas Incoom led the front four with five tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a strip sack, while Donte Kent led with two pass break-ups.
Marshall Meeder went 0-of-1 on his only field goal attempt, while Luke Elzinga had an eventful day, completing a pass on a fake field goal to Bryant Kieft on a 20-yard play and booting three punts for 105 yards, including one which landed at the one-yard line to set up a CMU defensive score.
NIU, who were missing their top two quarterbacks in Rocky Lombardi and Ethan Hampton, started the game with Justin Lynch (three yards rushing on two touches) before calling in Nevan Cremascoli for his FBS debut. Cremascoli, the Winnetka, Illinois native, finished 13-of-33 for 158 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, fumbling once.
Harrison Waylee led all rushers with 136 yards on 28 carries, while Antario Brown struggled in limited touches, with just 17 yards on six carries. Tristen Tewes led all receivers with 70 yards and a score on three receptions, while Shermar Thornton led all receivers in receptions (five) for 49 yards. Liam Soraghan hauled in a score on his only catch.
It was a field day for the NIU defense, as they had to contend with short fields early on— but also caused several turnover-worthy plays in the process. Jaden Dolphin led the effort with a game-high 15 tackles, while CJ Brown (11 tackles, one takcle-for-loss, forced fumble) helped top the chart. Nick Rattin (nine tackles, one tackle-for-loss, fumble recovery), James Ester (six tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one pass break-up), Jordan White (interception) and Izayah Green-May (fumble recovery touchdown) all made plays for the Huskies defense which shifted the tone of the game.
Tom Foley had four punts for 176 yards on the day, including a punt which fell on the one-yard line. NIU attempted no field goals.
Central Michigan and Northern Illinois both play again next Wednesday night, with CMU set to host Buffalo and NIU visiting Western Michigan for games set to kick off at 7 p.m. Eastern time.