CMU Chippewas come from behind to grab victory in home opener against Chattanooga
Tony Annese sealed a victory for the Chippewas with an interception during the final minutes of Thursday’s clash with the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
The sophomore defensive back intercepted a pass with 1:39 remaining and punctuated a 20-16 come-from-behind win in CMU’s home opener at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
It was Annese’s second pick of the game and the fourth turnover that the highly promoted CMU defense forced on the evening.
“It was obviously the best way I could have started this year,” Annese said. “Both of those plays had a lot to do with the offensive line. Our guys up front make it possible for me to do stuff like that. I just try to be a ball hawk whenever I can.”
After struggling with a score of 16-0 through a quarter and a half, CMU scored 20 unanswered points. The victory was Head Coach Dan Enos’ 20th win as CMU's head coach.
“We were really tight early on,” Enos said. “We turned it into a nail-bitter. We got some character tonight. The good lord has a way of putting you through things.”
The Chippewas final touchdown came when sophomore quarterback Cooper Rush connected with wide receiver Courtney Williams.
Rush’s offensive line kept the quarterback from hitting the turf more than once throughout the game.
With the exception of a 70-yard touchdown catch by UTC’s Tommy Hudson in the second quarter, the Chippewas defense was solid in the home opener.
“You don’t think about the score too much,” defensive end Blake Serpa said. “You approach every play, every series the same way. Tonight was just an example of ultimate focus for us.”
Graduate transfer student and former Michigan Wolverine Thomas Rawls had an impressive outing during his first appearance in the maroon and gold as running back.
Rawls totaled 125 yards on 25 carries and a crucial touchdown during the comeback effort.
“Leterrius (Walton) came to me early in the game and told me to get it going,” Rawls said. “I told him it was all good. We just settled in and got our confidence up. It felt good to start the year this way.”
Rawls’ first score at Kelly/Shorts Stadium caused nostalgia for the former player at Flint Northern Highschool.
“It was like I was a senior in high school all over again,” Rawls said. “That kind of excitement is what it is all about for me and all of us. I came here to have fun.”
Justin Cherocci led all CMU tacklers with 11 takedowns. He and fellow senior Leterrius Walton led the Chippewa defense as they stopped the Mocs eight times on third down.
“Third down is money down for us on defense,” Walton said. “We know we have to focus at moments like those. I think we did a great job of that.”
A pair of clutch receptions by junior Jesse Kroll, one for 33 yards and another for 18 yards led to CMU’s first touchdown of the game near the end of the first half.
It was Kroll’s first career touchdown at CMU.
Senior receiver Titus Davis left the game early after landing awkwardly right after taking a hit during a special teams play early in the fourth quarter.
Enos listed Davis’ injury as a non-severe knee sprain and said he was kept from the rest of the game as a precautionary measure.
“You can second guess yourself all you want but Titus almost ran one of those punts back for a touchdown earlier in the game,” Enos said. “He’s a dangerous player with the ball in his hands and you can’t ignore that.”
Enos said when the Chippewas fell by double digits in the first half the sideline remained calm.
“Nobody panicked or screamed at each other,” Enos said. “Getting that score before the half helped, but I think that just shows all of the veteran leadership we have on this team.”
Walton and the Chippewas dramatic come-from-behind victory was a sampling of what some players are calling a sure to be exciting 2014 campaign.
“We wanted to dominate from start to finish. That didn’t happen but we still got that win,” Walton said.“ That’s just a little taste of what you are going to get from us this year.”