"You can't win them all if you don't win the first one." That's what new head coach Chris Creighton said as he addressed the media in the post game press conference. While the 31-28 victory over Morgan State wasn't pretty... no, wait, that's it. It wasn't pretty at all.
Morgan State received the opening kickoff and scored within the first seven minutes. Bears quarterback Robert Council showed good arm strength with a mix of mobility early and often, giving EMU a run for their money if you couldn't tell from that final score.
The Eagles came out very hot from the start though. Their first possession ended in a touchdown run by Darius Jackson, who had six carries for 21 yards in the opening drive. On the following drive, Morgan State was held to a three-and-out, then their punt was blocked and recovered in the end zone by Nathan Adams. Ryan Brumfield would later have the team's third score to cap off a 76-yard drive on the following possession.
Once the Eagles got ahead 21-7, Creighton hinted that his players started to get cocky, which is always a no-no. Which, after a few big plays by Council, running back Lamont Brown III, the Eagles regressed as Morgan State climbed their way up to a 21-21 tie ball game heading into halftime.
"When we went up 21-7, I saw a lot of our guys feeling pretty good. We're not good enough to ever feel pretty good."
At the start of the second drive of the third quarter, Bell came out of the game with an apparent ankle injury, as he was being assisted by a team trainer on the sidelines while Brogan Roback came into the game, staying in the rest of the way. There was something different about having Roback in as quarterback. For instance, Bell only threw to Dustin Creel, the leading wide receiver in 2013, once or twice, but didn't have a completion. The bulk of Bell's throws were to tight end Tyreese Russell. Even though he's a big target, it would've been responsible to use other options in the passing game along the way. But I digress.
After Roback's first drive ended up in a three-and-out, Council would take advantage of EMU's still faulty defense with a quick drive, finding Thomas Martin for a 75-yard completion for a touchdown, giving Eagle fans the old "oh shit, here we go again" feeling. But fortunately, the Eagles still have Bronson Hill, who would carry the ball four times for 35 yards on the following drive. Dustin Creel also had a pair of catches for 15 yards which led up to Brumfield getting his second touchdown of the game after a 14-yard run.
Roback stepped up late in the third quarter and early into the fourth, highlighted by a 30-yard run, which would eventually lead to Dylan Mulder knocking in a 42-yard field goal attempt, putting the Eagles ahead by three.
I'm not even going to tell you how the rest of this game went. It was just ugly. Just imagine what dumb football might look like and it probably happened. But a win is a win is a win, and the Eagles won by the skin of their teeth over an FCS opponent from Baltimore.
Quietly, Hill was EMU's leading rusher with 19 carries for 114 yards. Darius Jackson's big day ended up with rushing for 73 yards with a touchdown, while Brumfield had his two rushing scores for 57 yards. Conversely, Brown and Council rushed for 124 and 71 yards for the Bears, respectively.
Bell played okay. He was 11-for-16 through the air, but only for 59 yards while rushing for 19 yards. Roback had seven completions for 40 yards while rushing for 30. Nothing sexy here.
Probably the best player for Eastern Michigan tonight was junior captain Pat O'Connor, who really anchored down the defensive line. He and linebackers Hunter Matt and Great Ibe all had 10 tackles a piece, but O'Connor had 1.5 sacks for 17 total yards, as well as three tackles for a loss. It just seemed like every time there was a good defensive play, their names were always in the mix.
As ugly as this win was, it was Creighton's first win at the Division-I level. Before we look ahead to next week, fans can wind down and try to enjoy this victory. Seriously, they're playing Florida, let's stress about that one later.