Zeitler: Central Michigan demoralizes Eastern with efficient and explosive play
Coming into the game against Eastern Michigan, the Central Michigan football team had lived up to my expectations.
No more, no less.
The Chippewas won in convincing fashion in home games against FCS opponent Albany and a floundering Akron team while losing to Power Five schools Wisconsin and Miami (Florida), then dropped to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the Mid-American Conference after falling to arch-rival Western Michigan, a game in which the Broncos were favored by 16.5 points.
CMU’s explosive 42-16 victory over EMU marked the first “upset” win under head coach Jim McElwain, and who better to do it against than an in-state rival with a win over a Big Ten team under its belt?
When the Eagles entered Kelly/Shorts Stadium on Oct. 5 for their first MAC contest of the season, they were 3-1 on the season, including an exhilarating last-second triumph over Illinois on the road.
Ranked No. 70 on the Athletic’s weekly ranking of FBS teams and 42 spots above CMU’s rank at No. 112, EMU was a 6.5-point favorite over the Chippewas.
And yet it was CMU who controlled the game from wire to wire, piling up 587 total yards while holding the Eagles to a mere 285. There was no question as to who was the better team on the turf in the contest.
Instead of perching myself in the press box again for the game, I got the chance to watch from the student section this time.
With the changes made for the 2019 football season, the visiting team is now relegated to the sideline closest to the student section. I was able to find a spot around the 35 yard line and worked my way into the front row, where I watched the EMU bench reactions and even picked up on some words of frustration throughout the game.
On CMU’s opening drive, the Chippewas marched down the field in seven plays and capped it with a 3-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jonathan Ward. As the Eagles offense readied themselves to retaliate on their first drive of the day, the rhetoric was one of confidence: “They got theirs -- now it’s our turn.”
But eight plays later, the EMU offense trotted off the field empty-handed after the Chippewas forced a turnover on downs.
CMU moved the ball well on each of their next two possessions but had nothing to show for it after two misses by kicker Ryan Tice. Sandwiched between those missed kicks was an EMU field goal that made the score 7-3 Chippewas at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter started promising for the Eagles as they rolled down the field to the CMU 34, and the EMU sideline voiced its support louder and louder with each first down.
And then it was silenced by junior safety Alonzo McCoy, who high-pointed an ill-advised throw by senior quarterback Mike Glass III and brought it down for an interception in the end zone.
On the very next play, the Eagle bench got even more silent – if that was even possible – after sophomore wideout Kalil Pimpleton took it 80 yards to the house to make it a 14-3 game.
From there, EMU simply seemed deflated. In the span of the next two minutes, the Chippewas forced a three-and-out and added a 64-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback David Moore to Ward.
Silence from the EMU sideline.
After taking a 21-3 deficit into halftime, the Eagles came out of the break with a little more energy, but to me and everyone else around, it seemed to be more of a show than real confidence.
EMU got the ball first in the second half; its possession lasted a mere two minutes before punting the ball back to the Chippewas.
Five minutes later, sophomore running back Kobe Lewis coasted down the left sideline for a touchdown to extend CMU’s lead to 28-3.
Any sense of energy on the Eagles’ sideline was long gone at that point, and the CMU student section really let them hear about the numbers on the scoreboard. Some players scowled darkly while others joked with each other in an attempt to keep the mood light in the midst of the drubbing.
As time dwindled in the game and the score appeared out of reach, CMU brought in new receivers and fourth-string running back Kumehnnu Gwilly to run down the clock and give some experience to backup players.
Gwilly, besides his fumble, did a fantastic job of churning his legs and falling forward for first downs against the Eagles’ first-string defense, which only frustrated the EMU sideline further.
“We can’t even get a stop against the third-stringers,” grumbled one EMU player to his teammate as he sat on a stationary bike, defeat heavy on his shoulder pads.
When backup quarterback Tommy Lazzaro lunged into the end zone to make it 42-16 Chippewas with 2:55 to play in the fourth quarter, the player shook his head slowly and muttered something quietly to the bike so no one else would hear.
It was a demoralizing loss for the Eagles, but on the other sideline, CMU knew how big the victory was for the program. The Chippewas had won in every aspect of the game and proved themselves a team to fear in the MAC.
"That was a heck of a football team that's been playing good football," McElwain said. "I don't think we left any doubt of where our program is."
The win over EMU also strengthens the pride shown by CMU students and gives them all the more reason to stick around at games; the Chippewas are 3-0 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium this season and have beaten their opponents by an average of over three touchdowns in those games.
CMU will attempt to continue their winning ways at home next Saturday when it welcomes New Mexico State (0-6) for a 3 p.m. tilt on Oct. 12. The Aggies have played the likes of No. 2 Alabama and No. 23 Washington State this season.