Rapid Reaction: CMU 31, NIU 24
In a fitting way to end their regular season, senior defensive back Josh Cox iced Senior Day with an interception with under thirty seconds left – Central Michigan’s nationwide-best 31st forced turnover on the year - giving CMU a 31-24 win.
The Chippewas trailed the Northern Illinois Huskies 17-0 at half, but came back to win 31-24. CMU finished the 2017 season with a 8-4 (6-2 in Mid-American Conference) record.
CMU gained only 35 yards on 32 first-half plays, compared to NIU’s 147 on 41. The end-game totals were a different story, with CMU out-gaining NIU, 387 to 265.
Graduate transfer quarterback Shane Morris threw a 37-yard pick-six on a jumped route by Juwuan Johnson on the third play of the game.
After two nondescript possessions, Morris took a big hit on an attempted scramble. He was then taken to the locker room after a CMU timeout.
Redshirt freshman Tony Poljan’s first drive after Morris’ exit ended with another three-and-out.
NIU’s Marcus Childers drove up the field, leading a 41-yard drive. The first offensive score of the game came with a four yard pass to wide-open D.J. Brown to put CMU in a 14-0 deficit.
Morris stepped back in after NIU’s score. After crossing into NIU territory, he fumbled while going to pass —forcing CMU to punt on fourth and 38.
NIU’s first drive of the second saw them continuing to drive down the field, but got hit with a penalty to drop them to second and 24. Two missed throws later, the Huskies faced fourth down and elected to punt instead of a field goal from the 24.
After another CMU punt following a drop by Conklin, Childers led the Huskies in a 4:02 drive. A 16-yard catch by tight end Daniel Crawford and two rushes of just over ten yards by running back Jordan Huff put them within ten of the goal line. CMU stopped NIU in the red zone, forcing a 23-yard field goal to limit the lead to 17-0.
CMU took the ball on their 24 with 1:47 after another three-and-out. Within 30 seconds, Morris was down again after a late roughing call. He was still in with 1:11 on the clock, but hit for back-to-back sacks on the following plays. The ensuing punt ended the half.
Following the break, CMU began to once again look like a team riding a four-game win streak.
Chapman caught Morris’ mid-level throw and took it in for a 56-yard touchdown. His score brought the Chippewas to 17-7.
After the second straight three-and-out forced to open the half, Jonathan Ward ran 52 yards to place them within five of the goal line. Morris threw two miscues in the red zone, settling on a field goal to bring the Chippewas to within a score of NIU, 17-10.
Sophomore Sean Bunting grabbed his fifth interception of the season on the next drive, all of which have come in the past four games.
Chapman ended up getting scoring on a reversal, expertly avoiding multiple tacklers. The potential game-tying play was called back with a holding call.
They ended up scoring anyway, taking 6:14 off the clock. Morris hit Ward with a quick 5-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17.
The defense continued its strong start to the half, setting up a hot Chippewa offense for a go-ahead drive. Ward ripped off 54 yards for a rushing touchdown, ending a 69-yard drive in only four plays.
Tre Harbison tied the game for NIU at 24 with 3:03 left in the game. Childers had taken over the drive, leading the team 64 yards with two rushes of more than 10 in the nine-play drive.
After a touchback, senior Eric Cooper took a 40-yard pass to set up the Chips on the 35 with under three minutes. Three plays later, they faced fourth down and elected to go for the score. It paid off, with Morris throwing another touchdown to senior Corey Willis from the 29-yard line.
CMU led 31-24 with under a minute when NIU took the field for the final time. Childers hit Chad Beebe for a big gain with under a minute left. But, he was intercepted by senior Josh Cox with about 20 seconds on the clock, giving Central their eighth win of the season.