Up 28-21 with just under 11 minutes to go in the game, Central Michigan kicker Tristan Mattson trotted out to attempt a 46-yard field goal to put the Chippewas up by two scores on the road against their bitter rivals Western Michigan.
The kick attempt was set up on the prior play by a Jase Bauer rollout on a broken play, scampering forward for five yards to set up a fourth-and-three situation at the WMU 28-yard line.
Mattson’s kick started to the right, then curved left and short, bouncing off the corner of the front crossbar and left upright. No good.
The Broncos made them pay immediately, executing a five-play, 72-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 28-all, then on the first play from scrimmage for CMU, WMU defensive back Keni-H Lovely forced a fumble on a Marion Lukes 10+ yard run, gifting the Broncos the ball once again.
Three plays later, CMU defensive back Marcus Badgett missed a tackle on WMU wide receiver Leroy Thomas at the line of scrimmage, allowing Thomas to run 41 yards untouched for a touchdown to extend the lead to 35-28— a tally which wouldn’t narrow in what was ultimately a 38-28 victory for WMU on Tuesday night.
The action in the final frame of Tuesday night’s contest was a reclamation of dignity for the Broncos, who largely controlled the pace of the game save for the third quarter.
WMU’s defense started off hot, forcing the Chippewas into four punts on their first four possessions, with 82 yards on 16 plays. The Broncos scored their first two touchdowns in that time, with eighth-year tight end Austin Hence collecting a 23-yard receiving score on a wide-open seam route down the middle of the field and Jalen Buckley collecting a one-yard rushing score to go up 14-0.
Central finally got a drive going late in the second quarter, thanks in part to a punt return landing at midfield. The Chippewas would turn the field position into points on a sweeping Marion Lukes outside run from 17 yards out to put CMU on the scoreboard with just over five minutes remaining in the first half.
An inopportune holding call on the next drive for Western did nothing to stop them from slicing up Central’s defense, as on second-and-17 from the CMU 22-yard line, Hayden Wolff stood in the pocket and delivered a beautiful backshoulder throw on an endzone fade route to Anthony Sambucci for the second passing touchdown of the day.
CMU, down 21-7, would mount one last drive to try and cut down the deficit at the half, but stalled out at the WMU 37-yard line with 32 seconds remaining. On fourth-and-10, head coach Jim McElwain called on the field goal unit to convert from 55 yards out to try and narrow the gap to 11 points.
Mattson’s kick was ill from the start, arcing up high and slow before falling right into the hands of the waiting Keni-H Lovely in front of the goalpost. The 47-yard return was ultimately called back by penalty, and the half would end on a kneeldown, with WMU up 21-7.
The game would take a dramatic shift in tone in the third quarter, as this time, the script flipped and it was the Chippewas defense which held down the Broncos over their first five possessions, with three punts, a turnover-on-downs and an interception.
The offense picked up the defense’s energy and scored three touchdowns in four minutes of play, with quarterback Jase Bauer and tight end Mitchel Collier twice collaborating on redzone touchdown passes to tie the game up at 21-21 with 3:38 to go in the third quarter before Bauer tossed a gem of a pass downfield to Tyson Davis— who took the ball 67 yards for the go-ahead touchdown just over 90 seconds later to give Central their first lead of the night.
That’s as far as Central would get, as the Broncos would settle down in the fourth quarter and re-establish their pace of play. WMU would compile a 17-point unanswered rally in the fourth quarter to neuter CMU’s 21-point run, with WMU defensive back Bilhal Kone intercepting a last-ditch Bauer pass to seal the game with 1:27 remaining.
The Broncos had a stellar day statistically, with Hayden Wolff (25-of-36 passing, 336 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) especially looking sharp. Running back Jalen Buckley once again exceeded 100 yards, with 117 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Wide receiver Kenneth Womack continues to be Wolff’s favorite target, with 135 yards on 12 catches. All three of WMU’s passing touchdowns came on explosives, with Leroy Thomas’ 41-yarder, Hence’s 23-yarder and Antony Sambucci’s 22-yarder all dotting the scoring sheets.
Linebacker Nate Norris led WMU in total tackles (nine), with Isaiah Green and Corey Walker collecting solo sacks, while Bilhal Kone led the defensive backs with two pass break-ups and an interception. Walker also led in tackles-for-loss (two.)
Palmer Domschke converted his lone field goal from 27 yards out with under two minutes remaining in the contest.
Despite a languid first half, the Chippewas still put up decent numbers.
Jase Bauer once again took the majority of snaps at quarterback, finishing 14-of-27 for 205 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Bert Emanuel Jr., the team’s Week 1 starter, saw his first game action since Sept. 30, with three rushes for 20 yards. Outside of his fumble in the fourth quarter, Marion Lukes had been electric, with 147 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, while also hauling in an 11-yard reception. Mitchel Collier (two receptions, 13 yards) scored two touchdowns to lead the team, while Tyson Davis (two receptions, 77 yards, one score) led the Chips in yards and Chris Parker (three catches, 46 yards) led the Chips in receptions.
Linebacker Jordan Kwiatkowski led the Chippewa defensive effort with 10 tackles and two pass break-ups. Fellow backer Dakota Cochran had the team’s lone interception and finished with seven tackles. Five Chips had a tackle-for-loss each, while Michael Heldman and Jason Williams each had sacks on the night.
With the win, the Western Broncos move to 4-6 (3-3 MAC) to keep their slim postseason hopes alive. The Broncos also lay claim to both the Victory Cannon and the Michigan MAC Trophy as well, and now hold a 4-1 record in the last five contests against Central.
With the loss, the Central Michigan Chippewas fall to 5-5 (3-3 MAC) and see their outsider run at a MAC West division crown vanish. The loss also forces CMU to have to win against either Ohio at Peden Stadium or Toledo at Kelly/Shorts in order to earn a bowl bid.
WMU is set to travel to Northern Illinois next Tuesday at 7 p.m. Eastern time, while CMU travels to Ohio for a matchup next Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern time.