COLUMN: Conklin’s return potentially saves football’s season
Heading into Athens, Ohio on a three-game losing streak, the Central Michigan football team needed to fire up in the worst way.
As the Ohio Bobcats entered Saturday’s game on a three-game winning streak, both teams were on complete opposite trajectories and a fourth-straight loss — and 0-2 start in Mid-American Conference play — looked likely for the ailing Chippewas.
Facing a potentially disastrous start to MAC play, CMU fired up as a familiar face made his way off the bench and onto the field during CMU’s 26-23 win.
Senior tight end Tyler Conklin made his 2017 debut on Saturday after missing the first five games with a foot injury and helped lift the Chippewas to the much-needed victory.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Chesterfield native made his presence felt immediately as he had three catches for 40 yards on the opening drive, capped by a 16-yard touchdown reception from graduate transfer quarterback Shane Morris.
Morris continued to feed Conklin throughout the afternoon as the Bobcat’s defense looked lost trying to cover him over the middle. Conklin finished with 10 catches for 136 yards — both career highs.
Clinging to a 19-14 lead with nearly 11 minutes to play, Morris found Conklin once again to essentially win the game with a 10-yard scoring pass.
Not only did Conklin’s return help the Chippewas earn a huge victory on Saturday, but it potentially flips the script on the season.
CMU was on its way to finishing towards the bottom of the MAC West Division once again.
Now, after a win over the defending MAC East Champions on the road, the Chippewas (3-3, 1-1 MAC) give themselves a fighting chance the rest of the way.
Coming off a career-high three interceptions against Boston College, Morris was struggling to find any rhythm. CMU’s running game had been a no-show through the first five games as well.
Conklin gave Morris a security blanket over the middle and made life much easier for an offense that desperately needed it. Morris finished an efficient 25-for-35 passing for 249 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior wide receiver Corey Willis also made his return on Saturday after missing three games with a hand injury. While Willis was used primarily as a decoy, having both him and Conklin back makes CMU a completely different team going forward.
Central Michigan returns to Kelly/Shorts Stadium this Saturday for a homecoming matchup against the preseason MAC favorite Toledo Rockets before heading to Ball State and battling Western Michigan on the road.
Before Saturday, very few would have given the Chippewas much hope in those games.
With Conklin now back in the fold, however, anything appears possible.