The Central Michigan Chippewas (1-2) had the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looking at a dangerous situation at the halftime break, converting a crucial third-and-goal with a one-yard rushing touchdown by backup QB Jase Bauer to cut the Irish lead to 21-14.
It was the first time in the 2023 campaign the Irish had found themselves with a one-score lead going into the break, leaving them vulnerable to one or two bad drives.
Ultimately, Notre Dame would get the ball first coming out of the break and put all that to rest with a seven-play, 76-yard drive culminating in a one-yard Sam Hartman sneak touchdown to push the margin back up to two scores, a lead CMU would never find a way to close in a 41-17 losing effort on Saturday afternoon.
The game started in about the worst fashion possible for the visitors, with CMU forced into a quick three-and-out. Notre Dame would make quick work of the next possession, baiting Donte Kent into shading inside before Sam Hartman flicked a pass to Tobias Merriweather for a 75-yard pitch-and-catch touchdown down the sideline to go up 7-0 just five minutes into the contest.
A roughing the passer penalty on the next drive ignited a Chippewa march, as Jase Bauer would find Marion Lukes for a 16-yard catch, then hand the ball off to Lukes for gains of nine and six yards to sandwich an eight-yard QB keeper before Myles Bailey would cross the line for a six-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game up with 7:22 to go in the first quarter.
Notre Dame found themselves in danger on the next possession, after Kyle Moretti stuffed Audric Estime on third-and-one at the CMU 18-yard line to force a fourth-down decision. Head coach Marcus Freeman opted to go for it, and it proved the right decision, as Estime found the hole on the left side and ran right past an over-pursuing Justin Whiteside to hit paydirt on a 17-yard score and put the Irish up 14-7 with 2:13 to go in the first quarter.
Deja vu struck again, as the Chips couldn’t move the ball and were forced into a three-and-out to essentially end the first quarter, gifting Notre Dame the ball. The Irish made them pay just two plays later, as this time, it was Chris Tyree breaking free from coverage for a 76-yard touchdown to put the lead at 21-7 with 14:17 remaining in the first half.
The two teams stalemated on their next two drives, with both attempts to score ending in missed field goals, as Notre Dame’s Spencer Shrader couldn’t convert from 59 yards out and a bad hold doomed CMU’s Tristan Mattson 38-yard try before it had a chance.
A holding penalty and a key third-down stop killed Notre Dame’s penultimate drive of the first half, giving CMU the ball at their own 17-yard line. Marion Lukes got the party started right away, with 33 yards on the first two carries of the series to help set up a 31-yard strike between Bauer and receiver Tyson Davis to put the Chips at the Notre Dame 11-yard line.
Once again, an ill-disciplined Irish team drew a flag after a stop, this time for roughing the passer, putting the ball at the two-yard line. CMU would go on to score the touchdown at the end of the drive with 17 seconds remaining in the half.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, as CMU could only reply to Hartman’s half-opening rushing touchdown with a short Tristan Mattson field goal with 1:59 remaining in the third quarter to cut the lead to 28-17. It was a frustrating end to a 12-play drive which ended on the ND five-yard line, and would prove to be their last serious threat to score.
Spencer Shrader would add two more field goals, and Sam Hartman would toss a touchdown to Holden Staes late to put the score at 41-17 by the buzzer.
For CMU, Jase Bauer played at quarterback after a late announcement that Bert Emanuel Jr., the starter of the last two contests, was out with an unspecified illness. Bauer finished 10-of-20 for 137 yards in relief, scoring a rushing touchdown.
Wayne State transfer Jesse Prewitt III led the receiving effort with 59 yards on two catches, one of four receivers to haul in exactly that amount of tosses. Myles Bailey was the leading rusher, with 59 yards on nine carries, scoring once. His backfield partner Marion Lukes had 12 carries for 56 yards, while also bringing in 23 yards through the air.
Linebacker Kyle Moretti led the Chippewa defensive effort, with six tackles and both of CMU’s tackles-for-loss. Cornerback Donte Kent and defensive lineman Jason Williams also had six tackles apiece.
For Notre Dame, Sam Hartman had a field day finding defensive breakdowns, finishing with 330 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-26 passing, while also collecting a rushing score. Tobias Merriweather and Chris Tyree each hauled in a 75+-yard receiving touchdown, while Jayden Thomas led the team in receptions (four catches for 63 yards.) Tyree finished with a team-leading 88 yards on two catches.
Audric Estrine was the story of the game, as the future Sunday player tallied a career-high 176 yards on 20 carries, scoring once.
Jack Kiser led the Irish on the tackle charts playing in place of JD Bertrand (concussion symptoms), finishing with 10 stops, a tackle-for-loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Thomas Harper was responsible for the team’s other sack and forced fumble, while Xavier Watts collected the team’s lone pass break-up.
Central Michigan now prepares to travel for a Saturday afternoon match with South Alabama to end the non-conference campaign, while Notre Dame continues their march up the prognosticator polls, facing fellow blueblood Ohio State in a night contest.