Conklin lifts CMU to first MAC win at Ohio
Chippewas snap three-game losing streak at Bobcats' homecoming
In his 2017 debut, Tyler Conklin led the Central Michigan offense in the Chippewas' 26-23 victory on Saturday in Athens, Ohio.
The senior tight end made career highs with 10 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns in CMU's first Mid-American Conference win of the season. The Chippewas (3-3, 1-1 MAC) snapped a three-game losing streak, and ended the Ohio's three-game win streak.
“It was nice to be back," Conklin said. "To come in here and beat a team that was in the MAC Championship last year, that’s huge. That’s good for our confidence and we’re slowly getting healthy. We feel like we’re the team we once were. It’s a great spark."
Ohio (4-2, 1-1 MAC) had five turnovers, allowing CMU to spoil the Bobcats' homecoming at Peden Stadium.
“It’s obviously a big win for our football team," head coach John Bonamego said. "It’s tough to win on the road as we all know. I’m really proud of the grit that our team showed. We definitely made our fair share of mistakes, but we made some things happen."
Keeping the pace
CMU tied the game at seven after the first quarter and keeping the game within a point at halftime.
The Bobcats went 75 yards in 10 plays in the first half, capping off the opening drive with a one-yard touchdown rush from quarterback Nathan Rourke. Conklin responded with three catches for 40 yards and a touchdown on CMU's first drive to tie the game at seven.
“He’s a difference-maker on the football field," Bonamego said of Conklin. "It’s a reason why he’s a captain. He’s a lot to handle from a defensive perspective."
Trailing 14-7 with six seconds left in the first half, the Chippewas blocked Ohio's 50-yard field goal attempt. Sophomore Sean Bunting scooped the loose ball and returned it for a 60-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-13 at the break.
Sophomore running back Jonathan Ward gave CMU its first lead with a one-yard rushing touchdown, capping off a 10-play, 65-yard drive to open the second half.
Following a 45-yard interception return from senior defensive back Josh Cox, Bonamego elected to go for it on fourth and goal, which resulted in a turnover on downs. The Bobcats took the ball back, trailing 19-14 after CMU's failed two-point conversion.
Senior defensive end Joe Ostman stripped the ball from Rourke, causing his second fumble of the game. Trevor Apsey recovered, giving CMU the ball back late in the third quarter. Rourke fumbled again early in the fourth quarter, giving CMU the ball deep in Bobcat territory.
“(Rourke) is a very elusive player," Ostman said. "He’s not down until the whistle’s blown. I found that out for myself. (Ohio) runs that option (and) he's a dual threat. You don’t know where they’re going. It brought a challenge, but we prepared for it all week and I think we responded pretty well.”
Morris found Conklin again from 10 yards out, setting up Conklin's second touchdown catch of the game and CMU's 26-14 lead with 10:16 left to play.
With under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bobcats blocked a CMU punt to force a safety and cut the deficit 26-16 midway through the fourth quarter. Soon after, Rourke rushed from three yards out to score his third touchdown of the afternoon with 5:01 remaining to make it 26-23.
“(Ohio is) a challenging team to defend," Bonamego said. "Their quarterback was their leading rusher today. We were fortunate. I think we covered well and they dropped some balls too. We made plays today."
With under five minutes left in the game, the Chippewas converted three-straight third downs for first downs to seal the win and head back to Mount Pleasant with their first conference victory.
CMU returns to Kelly/Shorts stadium next Saturday for the Chippewas' homecoming game against Toledo.
"(I'm) really proud of our team, our staff, and how they prepared this week," Bonamego said. "We’ll enjoy this one. Tomorrow we’ll go to work on Toledo because we’ve got another tough test next Saturday.”