This couldn’t have been what Dan Enos imagined when he accepted the head coaching job in January.
One season after the Central Michigan football team reached a new high, winning 12 games and cracking the Top 25 for the first time in school history, it appeared to hit a new low Saturday afternoon at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
A 71-yard touchdown pass from Miami quarterback Zac Dysert to a wide open Andrew Cruse down the right sideline with 19 seconds remaining gave the RedHawks a 27-20 victory and handed CMU its fourth consecutive loss in front of a homecoming crowd of 24,761.
“It hurts,” Enos said after the loss. “We work real hard. Everybody’s disappointed.”
And with that play went the Chippewas hopes for another Mid-American Conference championship.
The loss, the team’s second at home this season, drops their record to 1-3 in the Mid-American Conference and into a tie for last place with Eastern Michigan in the West Division.
The same EMU team that snapped its 18-game losing streak Saturday by beating the same Ball State team that outplayed the Chippewas in their own stadium two weeks ago.
“Guys are frustrated. Coaches are (too),” Enos said. “It’s wearing on them.”
Offense not getting it done
Sophomore Ryan Radcliff recorded 300 yards passing for the second game of the season Saturday, going 29-for-52 for 329 yards, but was overshadowed by three interceptions and an inability to maximize scoring inside Miami’s 20-yard line.
CMU drove into Miami’s red zone six times, but could only punch it in for six points twice, settling for field goals on three other occasions.
Radcliff said he didn’t have an answer as to why the team continues to struggle in their opponents’ red zones.
“It’s something we’re going to have to figure out,” he said. “We’re taking too many field goals down there and not getting in the end zone. It sucks because it was pivotal point in our season. Before this game, we were still able to achieve a lot of the goals we had set.”
The running attack was also held in check as CMU’s leading rusher in the game, senior Carl Volny, was limited to 47 yards on five carries.
Junior Paris Cotton was held to 23 yards on 15 carries, and had a costly fumble on the RedHawks’ 1-yard line in the second quarter.
“One of our goals was to run the ball,” Enos said. “We were trying to be persistent with it, but as you start to go through the game and you’re not gaining yards, it’s tough to keep calling those things. We’re not getting things done inside like we need to.”
The defense also played a major role in the game, specifically with Miami’s game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Enos said the RedHawks’ 71-yard touchdown pass was the product of a missed assignment by freshman cornerback Avery Cunningham, who started in place of an injured LaVarus Williams.
“We’re not blaming it on him, but he’s going to have to learn,” Enos said.
CMU’s secondary allowed Dysert to throw for a career-high 399 yards on 29-of-47 passing.
Senior linebacker Nick Bellore, noticeably frustrated following the game, likened the defensive mistakes to that of the 2007 and 2008 season, in which the defensive unit ranked toward the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“It’s been rough because we’ve been spoiled,” he said. “The last three years, we were probably the most exciting team to watch and always seemed to win the close games. We don’t have that this year.”
The schedule does not get any easier for the Chippewas, who travel to DeKalb, Ill., on Saturday to play MAC West leader Northern Illinois (5-2, 3-0 MAC). The Huskies have the No. 1 scoring offense, averaging better than 30 points per game, while giving up 20 points per game, also tops in the MAC.
A win and the team could make strides toward salvaging the season, but another loss could send the team into a tailspin finish that nobody — on the team or in the stands — wants to see. Games against rival Western Michigan, Navy and Toledo (tied with NIU for MAC West lead) remain.
“There’s still five games ahead of us and we’re going to come out and play five games at least,” Radcliff said. “By no means is it over.”
NOTES: The loss snapped CMU’s 18-game winning streak against MAC teams from Ohio. Its last homecoming loss was against Bowling Green in 2004. … Mike Haywood, in his second year as head coach at Miami, earned his first road victory. … Senior linebacker Nick Bellore started his 48th consecutive game. … Senior receiver Kito Poblah moved into eighth all-time at CMU in receptions (134).