Football shredded in loss to rival Western Michigan
Four games into Mid-American Conference play, the Central Michigan football team remains winless.
Head coach John Bonamego’s loss on Saturday stung worse than the previous three. It was a rivalry loss.
Facing Western Michigan junior quarterback Jon Wassink for the first time, the Chippewas (1-7, 0-4 MAC) defense came up short in a 35-10 loss on Oct. 20 at a rainy Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
The win gave the Broncos (6-2, 4-0 MAC), and head coach Tim Lester, the rights to the Michigan MAC Trophy. WMU earned a 27-24 win against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 6.
“The way we lost last year was embarrassing,” Lester said. “I was proud of the way we came out and finished things today. Winning the trophy back is great, but we had to play the game first.”
Bonamego was frustrated – for the seventh-time this season.
"I only have so many of these in me," Bonamego said of holding a losing press conference. "It's hard to come in here after a loss, especially a rivalry game, so I'm obviously disappointed. We have to learn to stop beating ourselves."
Wassink took a redshirt in 2015, did not play in 2016, and he was injured for the rivalry duel a year ago at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo. He made his presence felt in Mount Pleasant through game control and three rushing scores.
The game was delayed due to lightning with 8:17 left in the first quarter. Both teams already punted twice, and the ball was in the hands of CMU when play was stopped. Following a 33-minute delay, the game restarted.
Less than four minutes after play resumed, Wassink found the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback keeper to give WMU a 7-0 edge.
Two drives following WMU’s first touchdown, the Broncos struck again just 52 seconds into the second quarter. Eric Assoua, a starting defensive end, poked the ball free from CMU quarterback Tommy Lazzaro.
Linebacker Drake Spears jumped on the ball. One player later, the Broncos found the end zone on a 29-yard rushing score by LeVante Bellamy for a 14-0 edge.
Bellamy’s counterpart in the backfield, Jamauri Bogan, carried the ball 1-yard into the end zone for a 21-0 lead with just over one minute until halftime. WMU safety Justin Tranquill made his first career interception to end the first half.
“Two years ago when we played here, I had an interception in the exact same spot, but the refs called me out of bounds,” Tranquill said. “It’s just a blessing.”
Bellamy and Bogan combined for 241 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 38 total carries. Alone, Bellamy went for 145 on the ground.
The Chippewas and Broncos were a combined 5-of-18 on third down through the first two quarters, and Bonamego’s group punted on six of nine drives.
Despite a halftime pep talk, the Chippewas couldn’t respond for a comeback.
CMU inched back on a 40-yard field goal by Ryan Tice with 6:04 remaining in the third quarter. Under one minute to play in the third, Romello Ross went for a 4-yard score to cut CMU’s deficit to 21-10.
When the Chippewas began to switch the momentum in their direction, Lazzaro’s mistake handed all the confidence back to the Broncos. He tossed up a pass that was brought down by WMU linebacker Alex Grace at the 40-yard line.
Grace’s interception led to a 7-yard rushing score by Wassink, pushing WMU’s lead to 28-10 with 11:27 remaining in the game. The quarterback scored the final touchdown of the game, an 8-yard run into the end zone with 3:15 left – a 35-10 margin for the Broncos.
Accounting for three rushing touchdowns on eight carries, Wassink was not forced to throw the ball much against CMU’s defense and fierce wind. He finished 5-for-9 passing for 51 yards with no turnovers.
"We have to put it all out there on the field for the players, the fans, the seniors, the coaches," said CMU linebacker Malik Fountain after the loss. "It's about game-to-game and evolving the program."
Lazzaro was dropped for a 2-yard loss on fourth down nearly five minutes into the final quarter. He was slow to get up and replaced by backup Tony Poljan.
The starting quarterback for the Chippewas finished the game 9 of 24 passing for 104 yards and two interceptions. He added 38 rushing yards in the loss. Redshirt freshman receiver Julian Hicks made three catches for 57 yards.
For the 49th time in the historic rivalry, WMU escaped Mount Pleasant victorious to claim the Victory Cannon trophy.
“It means everything for the team and the city of Kalamazoo,” WMU center John Keenoy said. “It’s nice to bring the trophies back home.”
The Chippewas travel to InfoCision Stadium at noon on Oct. 27 for a game against Akron. The Zips are 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the MAC.
"The answers are within us," Bonamego said. "It's frustrating, but I'll never lower our standards. Sometimes you're a lot closer than the outside world sees. I really believe our biggest issue is we make it hard on ourselves. That's on me."