The football team’s hopes for a .500 season and bowl-eligibility looked bleak after it gave up 28 fourth-quarter points in the loss against Western Michigan Nov. 3.
But Central Michigan kept those hopes alive Saturday, defeating Miami 30-16 in front of 7,223 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, improving to 5-6 with one game remaining.
“My last game here (at Kelly/Shorts) … it was special,” senior safety Jahleel Addae said. “As far as bowl-eligible goes, we had that as one of our goals heading into camp. We’re still in the hunt, and we have to come out tomorrow, look at what we did and get back to work.”
After the Chippewas took a 21-7 lead into the locker room, the RedHawks attempted a comeback in the second half.
Miami kicked a 39-yard field goal on its first possession out of the gate and intercepted senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff midway through the third quarter.
The RedHawks capitalized with a touchdown drive, ending it on a one-yard quarterback sneak by senior Zac Dysert. Miami went for the two-point conversion to try to pull within three but did not convert.
CMU responded, using a seven-play, 76-yard drive to extend its lead to 28-16. Freshman running back Saylor Lavallii rushed up the middle for a 10-yard score, taking the clock down to the 10:28 mark of the fourth quarter.
“It was huge,” head coach Dan Enos said. “We had some big plays from some guys on the drive, but true freshman Saylor Lavallii got his most touches today, and I think everybody can see how special that guy is going to be.”
The CMU defense was able to get pressure on the quarterback, finishing with five sacks.
“I think, since Akron, we’ve done a much better job of getting pressure,” Enos said. “Today, when we blitzed, the guys blitzed on time and were able to be a factor.”
The Chippewas will travel to Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts Friday in search of their sixth victory.
“Believe me, our team won’t overlook anybody,” Enos said. “We’re a blue-collared bunch of guys that are trying to scratch and claw and get any win, anyway we can get it. We’re going to come back tomorrow, and we’re going to work.”
The Chippewas struggled early offensively, going three and out on their first three possessions.
Miami blocked Richie Hogan’s punt on CMU’s first drive and received favorable field position on the 50.
But on the RedHawks first play, running back Justin Semmes fumbled during the handoff exchange, and the Chippewas recovered.
CMU did not get a first down until the 4:26 mark in the first quarter, when junior running back Zurlon Tipton broke off a 15-yard run.
Tipton later broke the scoreless tie on the same drive with a 12-yard rush. He finished with 113 yards rushing, his fifth-straight game with 100 or more yards.
But Miami wasted no time evening things up when Dysert threw a 68-yard strike to receiver Nick Harwell.
Harwell had 11 catches for 215 yards.
“He’s a great player,” Enos said. “We knew going into the game that he and Dysert were both great playmakers.”
The RedHawks were threatening again with a third-and-goal on the CMU 15-yard line, but Addae intercepted Dysert’s pass in the end zone.
After redshirt freshman receiver Andrew Flory caught a career-high nine passes last week against Eastern Michigan, he had another big 57-yard reception to bring the Chippewas to the Miami 16-yard line with 6:40 remaining in the half.
Tipton finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run, giving CMU a 14-7 lead.
Radcliff was 2-9 passing at the start of the team’s final drive of the half, but he completed all four of his passes on that possession, capped off by an eight-yard touchdown toss to junior tight end Connor Odykirk.
“Our quarterback (Radcliff) probably did not play as well as he has in the last four or five weeks, but, with that being said, for us to able to win the game, it means a lot that we’re growing,” Enos said.