ATHENS, Ohio — Dan Enos emerged from the Central Michigan locker room Saturday all smiles, his face glistening from the sweat dripping from his cheeks.
Supporters and parents of players hurled words of congratulations. Others came up to him and offered hugs.
A few feet away stood Saylor Lavallii. The sophomore running back was on the phone with his dad in south Florida, who had just watched his son break his career-high in rushing yards for the second consecutive week.
Enos wanted to know who he was talking to, so Lavallii handed the phone over.
“This is coach Enos. Fire Up Chips, baby,” he said.
While this was all going on, chants could be heard from the CMU locker room behind them. On the field was the Ohio marching band, performing as part of homecoming festivities.
But the Bobcats’ homecoming was ruined. Central Michigan, a team few thought had a chance given their struggles and battles with injuries all season, had just upset the Bobcats, 26-23, a team predicted this preseason to play for the Mid-American Conference championship.
“I told the players, this was one of my best victories of my entire career,” Enos said. “As a player, as a coach – everything. All the adversity this week and the last two weeks we’ve gone through, having to drive 80 miles on gameday to get there (from the hotel), the injuries … I’m really proud of them.”
And then there was Titus Davis, sidelined for the game with a shoulder injury. As receiver Courtney Williams, quarterback Cooper Rush and cornerback Kavon Frazier lined up to talk to the media, Davis could be heard shouting: “These guys are the real heroes.”
Rush for his game-winning touchdown drive, a 5-yard pass to Williams, and Frazier for forcing two of Ohio’s four turnovers.
But it was the gameplan that made the difference. Enos made it a point all week to publicly talk about the need for other receivers to get involved, and for Rush to be mistake-free in marching the offense down the field.
He instead opted to run the ball in the first half, with CMU racking up 25 carries for 158 yards (Lavallii had 131).
“We needed to run the ball, but I knew eventually (Ohio) was going to start loading the box up if we could run the ball,” Enos said. “Then those guys would have to make plays outside. The big thing is you’ve got to run the ball. Even if you can’t, you’ve got to call runs to give them the illusion that you’re going to stay persistent with it.”
True to Frank Solich form, Ohio made adjustments in the second half. The Bobcats began compressing their defense, forcing CMU to throw it, while allowing the offense to regain its composure. Not only did they take the lead in the fourth quarter, but it looked as if they would escape with a win.
In a true testament to this team’s improvement, they were able to capitalize off a costly turnover – the miffed punt with less than three minutes remaining – and string together a game-winning drive that relieved on Rush’s arm.
“Sticking to the plan, I guess he did that as far as running the ball goes,” Williams said. “He said he wanted to get out there and run the ball and show that we weren’t just a passing team. For us passing in the second half, as a wide receiver you love that. Anything that helps us get a win helps.”
The win marks the first time CMU has won back-to-back games since its four-game winning streak that closed last season.
Now the Chippewas turn their attention to undefeated Northern Illinois, which will come to Mount Pleasant on Saturday ranked No. 23 in the nation.
Contact Aaron McMann: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.