Central Michigan defeats Ball State in final moments


Central Michigan running back Jonathan Ward (5) celebrates with offensive lineman Luke Goedeke (67) after scoring a touchdown against Bowling Green Oct. 19 at Doyt L. Perry Stadium in Bowling Green.

MUNCIE, Ind. — Down six on third-and-2 senior quarterback Tommy Lazzaro ran through the line to score the game winning touchdown for Central Michigan.

The Chippewas (7-4, 5-2) defeated Mid-American Conference foe Ball State, 45-44, at Scheumann Stadium.

Central Michigan entered the game Saturday afternoon with well-documented struggles on the road.

Thanks to a career day on the ground by senior running back Jonathan Ward, the Chippewas (7-4, 5-2 Mid-American Conference) were able to overcome a deficit after a difficult first half. 

Ward finished the game with a career-high four touchdowns, but it was Lazzaro that came up big on third down from the 2-yard line to give the Chippewas the lead.

On a designed quarterback run, Lazzaro pushed through the middle of his line crossing the goal line and bringing the sideline  to their feet.

The Cardinals defense entered the game with 19 forced turnovers, good enough for first in the MAC. In order to win, the Chippewas would need to limit their mistakes against a defense that thrives on forcing opponents to make errors.

Unfortunately for the Chippewas, they were not up to the task in the first half. Two first half fumbles by sophomore running back Kobe Lewis and an interception thrown by senior quarterback Quinten Dormady led to 17 points for the Cardinals.

“We‘ve got to get better at that,” said coach Jim McElwain. “This putting the ball on the ground on the road stuff, it’s got to stop.”

The Chippewas allowed points on five of the Cardinals seven total first half drives and struggled to stop a Ball State attack that was fairly balanced with 321 total yards, 163 on the ground and 158 through the air. 

CMU scored a field goal on its first possession, but the team wouldn’t find the scoreboard again until under the two-minute mark in the second quarter when Ward punched in his first rushing touchdown on the day.

At the end of the first half, the Cardinals carried a  27-11 lead.

The Chippewas started off strong in the second half, capping off their first two drives with Ward rushing touchdowns. However, the CMU defense was unable to prevent the Cardinals from adding points and maintaining their lead.

On the Chippewas’ third drive of the second half, things got chippy between the two teams. Junior wide receiver JaCorey Sullivan caught a pass from Dormady and was brought down by his helmet. 

Following the play, sophomore wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton appeared to shove the player who made the tackle. After the shove, players from both teams began to confront each other before referees threw five flags and one hat onto the field. 

The result of the scrum was a face mask penalty called against Ball State, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against Pimpleton and a penalty for striking called on Ball State cornerback Antonio Phillips. Phillips was ejected due to the penalty.

The penalties allowed the Chippewas to push the ball down the field and finish the drive with Ward’s fourth touchdown of the game. Ward also finished with 105 yards on 24 carries. 

”It takes two sides,” McElwain said. “I can’t say anything about this officiating crew because I’ll get fined. I spoke with them before the game and sure enough what they chose to do is their M.O.”

McElwain went on to credit both teams competitiveness and drive to win the game.

”Both teams were playing hard and they were playing physical and it wasn’t a lot of dirty stuff at all,” McElwain said. “It was guys competing and enjoying it and that was good to see from both sides.”

The ensuing possession by the Cardinals ended in a punt. A 5-yard rushing touchdown by Lazzaro brought the game within one possession with plenty of time to play in the fourth quarter.

CMU forced a punt on Ball State’s next drive and began the drive at the 9-yard line with a chance to take the lead. The Chippewas were unable to move the ball and were forced to punt the ball from their own end zone.

The Cardinals extended their late fourth quarter lead to six points with a 33-yard field goal with just over five minutes left.

”I thought there were some real critical moments in that game,” McElwain said. ”When you look at it, it was really that defensive stop that held them to a field goal at the end, that one gave us an opportunity to go down and score.”

The Chippewas charged down the field utilizing a passing attack that had been effectively producing for most of the game. 

Dormady finished 27 of 38 passing for 356 yards but no touchdowns against an interception. 

After a pass from Dormady to Sullivan put the Chippewas inside the 10-yard line, the team turned to the run game. Three rushing plays later, the and Lazzaro was in for his second touchdown of the day.

Senior kicker Ryan Tice made the extra point and the Chippewas took the lead, 45-44.

”The message I had the last drive was, 'let’s go be great,'” Dormady said. “It came down to that. Big games are going to come down to the last drive and you got to go out and execute. I think we did that.”

Ball State was unable to move the ball on its final drive. 

On fourth down and the game on the line,  sophomore linebacker Troy Brown read the play and picked off Plitt to seal the victory for the Chippewas.

“Really I was just dropping back because I knew (Plitt) needed to take a shot, I knew he needed to gain some yards,” Brown said. “I looked through (running back Caleb Huntley), he came in I knew (wide receiver Antwan Davis) was going to come behind me probably for a dig or a post. (Plitt) was pressured, our defensive line did a great job pressuring pushing him inside the pocket so he was forced to throw and not scramble.”

CMU finished the game with 495 total yards, 139 on the ground and 356 through the air. 

“Signature wins sometimes happen when adversity hits, and we had a lot of it today,” McElwain said.