The air felt just that much clearer and the pep in the steps of the Chippewas was just that much more springy at the 3:11 mark of the second quarter.
The defense, led by Jacques Bristol, had just forced their second turnover-on-downs of the evening, gifting the offense the ball at their own 30-yard line, in a game where they were down only 3-0 to a languishing Spartans crew who was clearly shaken.
The ensuing drive couldn’t have gone better for the upset-minded team from Mt. Pleasant, with Central Michigan quarterback Bert Emanuel Jr. ripping a 17-yard dart in the direction of Shatavious Hogan on the first play of the drive before earning 44 yards on two back-to-back facemask calls against the defense and a 14-yard scramble by Emanuel Jr.. One play later, the Chippewas struck gold, with Emanuel Jr. finding Chris Parker wide open in the back of the endzone to take a 7-3 lead with 1:51 remaining in the first half.
It all fell apart from there, as the Chippewas (0-1) allowed Michigan State (1-0) to score 28 unanswered points in a dominant 31-7 victory on Friday night.
Despite the final score, it was a feisty contest to start with, as neither side gave an inch in the first quarter.
MSU started with the ball and opted to go for it early, eschewing the field goal in favor of a fourth-and-five attempt. Michael Heldman jumped offsides, allowing MSU to set up for an even more favorable fourth-and-one from the CMU 31. Robi Stuart and Justin Whiteside combined to kill the drive, gifting the ball back to the offense.
The Chippewas immediately drove down the field, threatening to score on their first drive of the game. They’d get to MSU’s two-yard line, but no further, as Emanuel Jr. slipped on a designed pass play on fourth-and-goal, ending the threat.
The two sides stalemated, exhanging punts back and forth until the 6:55 mark of the second quarter, when Jonathan Kim kicked a 47-yard field goal true to take the initial 3-0 lead.
CMU’s passing touchdown, the first of Emanual’s career, pushed the score to 7-3, and it seemed as if MSU wouldn’t recover.
MSU quarterback Noah Kim, who had gone 4-of-12 on passes up to that point, floundered on a wide-open pass on second down, eliciting boobirds from the home faithful. The next two tosses would bring them over to his side, as he found Jaron Glover for connections of 33 and 32 yards to get to the CMU two-yard line. Nathan Carter would score on a short run to give MSU the 10-7 lead.
The Spartans would get the ball back after a quick CMU drive ended in a punt with under a minute left, setting up a Hail Mary attempt from midfield with five seconds remaining. The pass would hit the hands of Montorie Foster Jr., then get broken up by Donte Kent, ending the half.
It wasn’t much of a contest from there, as CMU suffered an interception off a tipped pass on their first drive of the second half, and MSU made second-half coaching adjustments to limit CMU’s ability to create momentum downfield.
Jalen Berger would score a 12-yard rushing touchdown with 2:42 remaining in the third quarter to push the tally up to 17-7, and Noah Kim would connect with Tyrell Henry and Maliq Carr for two passing touchdowns to put the game truly out of hand.
It was ultimately a brutal loss for the Chips, who outperformed MSU in the first quarter in yards (66 to 42), first downs (six to two) and passes completed (5-of-6 vs. 1-of-5), while also holding the Spartans to -2 passing yards. Time of possession was also firmly in CMU’s favor, as they held the ball for over 10 minutes in the opening period.
But MSU, thanks in part to their last two drives, were able to flip the script in the second quarter with 166 passing yards and 10 points scored in 8:05 of game clock, while nearly scoring again.
It was all Spartans from there, as CMU combined for 98 yards in the second half and went 2-of-9 on third down attempts, while MSU collected 21 points and 208 yards.
Emanuel Jr. finished the game 11-of-17 for 87 yards, one touchdown and an interception for the Chippewas, while also finishing as the team’s leading rusher, with 41 yards on 17 carries. Back-up QB Jase Bauer went 2-of-8 for nine yards passing and had 27 yards on two rush attempts.
Chris Parker scored the team’s only touchdown, finishing with two receptions for 18 yards. Mitchel Collier led the Chips with three receptions for 30 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Kyle Moretti led CMU with 14 stops and a pass break-up, with cornerback Donte Kent collecting 10 tackles. Jacques Bristol brought in two tackles-for-loss from the defensive interior, with four other Chips gathering at least one TFL.
Jake Walrath had a busy day in his Chippewas debut, with nine punts for 379 yards (43.3 yards average), with a long boot of 53 yards.
Noah Kim got the start for MSU after battling in camp, finishing his first game under center 18-of-31 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. Katin Houser also saw time, but was sacked on his only pass attempt by Maurice White.
Former UConn Huskie running back Nathan Carter went over the century mark in his Spartans debut, with 113 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Jalen Berger had eight rushes for 24 yards.
MSU’s receiving corps is still a work in progress, and didn;t find a lot of ground until late. Berger led the group with four receptions for 30 yards, while Jaron Glover collected 75 yards on three catches. Tyrell Henry recorded his first FBS stats with his fouth-quarter score, while Maliq Carr made up for earlier drops with a touchdown late. Christian Fitzpatrick had a 72-yard scamper late to set up Carr’s score.
Cal Haladay set the pace for Michigan State on defense, with 10 tackles, a tackle-for-loss and an interception. As a unit, MSU collected nine tackles for loss from seven different players, while three different players combined for three sacks. Angelo Grose led the defensive backfield with two pass break-ups.
Jonathan Kim was 1-of-1 on field goals, while two punters saw action for MSU. Ryan Eckley started, collecting three punts for 129 yards, while Michael O’Shaughnessy had two punts for 68 yards, with both landing inside-the-20.
Both teams will set up to face FCS foes next Saturday afternoon, with CMU hosting New Hampshire at 1:30 p.m. ET, while Michigan State hosts Richmond at 3:30 p.m. ET.