A back-and-forth contest in front of 28,323 fans in the stands on Family Weekend between Eastern Michigan (2-3 0-1 Mid-American Conference) and Central Michigan (3-2, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) went down to the wire in a 26-23 contest on Saturday afternoon.
The tone of the game was established early, as CMU kick returner Marion Lukes took the first kick for six points on a streaking run down the far sideline— before the play was called back due to a penalty for holding.
The Chips would pick up where Lukes left off, scoring quickly on a nine-play, 91-yard drive occupying the first four minutes of play, with Jase Bauer calling his own number on the option run to the right to put Central up 7-0.
Eastern responded in kind, with tow quick passes setting the offense up inside the CMU redzone before Austin Smith would sneak over the goal line on third-and-goal on a hurry-up sneak to tie it back up at 7-7 with 5:24 to go in the first quarter.
A quick Central Michigan punt gifted the Eagles the ball in favorable territory, and they would march down the field once again on an eight-play drive to create a fourth-and-one situation at the CMU six-yard line. The Wildcat snap to Samson Evans went for no gain, and CMU forced the turnover on downs.
The Eagles got an opportunity for a turnover of their own just a few plays later, getting in front of a Jase Bauer pass to force CMU’s first giveaway in 12 quarters of play. EMU would convert the interception on the foot of Jesus Gomez, who kicked it true from 55 yards out to give the Eagles their first lead of the game.
The 55-yarder placed second in Kelly/Shorts Stadium history for longest field goal kicked, while making Gomez the first Eagle to ever hit two field goals from 55+ yards out, breaking a tie with Dylan Mulder and Chad Ryland.
CMU would get one last chance to get on the scoreboard in the first half and did, with Chris Parker on the end of a Jase Bauer pass from 19 yards to put the halftime score at 14-10 with under a minute remaining. It was a play which had to go to the review booht, as it was initially called incomplete on the field, but replay verified Parker had made a football move by getting the ball over the top of the end zone pylon, allowing the Chips to take the lead back once more.
Eastern came out in the third quarter looking to kill, slicing Central for a 10-yplay, 62 yard drive taking up nearly half the period, cashing it in with a Austin Smith endzone fade pass to Tanner Knue from four yards out to go up 16-14.
This is where things got weird.
The Eagles lined up for the extra point, and holder Mitchell Tomasek caught the snap, lining it up for Jesus Gomez to kick. But the interior protection didn’t hold up, as CMU defensive lineman Jayden Evans used all of his six-foot-six frame to get up in front of the operation, blocking the extra point and allowing it to dribble. About 10 yards later, linebacker Dakota Cochran scooped it up, taking the ball 89 yards for a two-point try. This play would tie the game back up at 16-all with 9:24 to go in the third quarter— greatly changing the momentum and providing a clean slate for the remainder of the clock.
A Tristan Mattson field goal for CMU would be answered by a Samson Evans two-yard touchdown run on the next drive, once again giving the Eagles the lead with 2:16 to go in the action-packed third quarter.
Both teams would stymie each other in the final frame, with CMU and EMU exchanging punts before the Chippewas took command of the scoreboard once again. This time, it was Marion Lukes— who had just one carry prior to the drive— hauling in the mail from 29 yards out on a brisk, sideline-hugging run to the outside to cap off a six-play, 58-yard drive.
The Lukes TD would put CMU up 26-23 with just 7:55 remaining.
EMU was in no rush to score given the situation, as they could settle for a field goal assuming the ball moved downfield far enough. They certainly took their time— and had to take some risks to do so, converting two fourth-down attempts (one on a defensive penalty and one on a pass play)— to set Jesus Gomez up for a 46-yard attempt after a 14-play, 50-yard drive which took over eight minutes.
Gomez, who had kicked true a 55-yard attempt on the south side of the field in the first half earlier in the game, lined up facing that direction once again to tie the game. The snap and hold were good, but Gomez hooked a short, wide ball to the right of the goalpost, effectively squashing any attempts at a comeback.
CMU wide receiver Thomas Pannunzio would take an end around for a 10-yard gain with 40 seconds remaining to ice the game three plays later, giving CMU their first victory of the MAC season.
Jase Bauer started the game at quarterback for CMU and took the majority of snaps, finishing 19-of-26 passing for 218 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while also scoring a rushing touchdown to open the game. Bert Emanuel Jr., who saw time on specific packages, hurt his shoulder early on, finishing with 15 yards on two rushes.
Myles Bailey led the Chips in rushing yards (92) on 14 carries and paired it with three receptions for 46 yards (both second on the team in receiving), with the game’s hero Marion Lukes finishing with 47 yards on five carries— four of which came on CMU’s penultimate drive.
Chris Parker led the receivers with four catches for 47 yards and a score.
Defensively for CMU, they were paced once agian by Kyle Moretti (10 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks.) Defensive backs Donte Kent and Jarvarious Sims each pulled in eight tackles, while Kent and Marc Badgett each had a pass break-up. Quindario Lee had the team’s other sack.
For Eastern Michigan, Austin Smith played the entire contest after being in a rotation last week vs. Jacksonville State. He finished 20-of-26 for 186 yards and a touchdown through the air, and led the rushing attack with 71 yards on 19 carries, scoring once.
Tanner Knue led all receivers with seven catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, while JB Mitchell was behind him with 48 yards on five catches. Samson Evans had a rushing touchdown, while Jaylon Jackson picked up 62 yards on 10 carries.
Chase Kline led all tacklers with 12 stops, while battery mate Joe Sparacio (eight tackles) led the EMU defense with two pass break-ups. Daiquan White picked up the team’s solo tackle-for-loss, with Joseph Zelinsky and Adrian Gonzalez combining for a sack.
CMU gets set to travel to Buffalo for their next league game, for a kickoff scheduled for next Saturday, Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. EMU will host Ball State for a scheduled 3:30 p.m. Eastern time tilt, also set for next Saturday.