Hitting the mark: Jonathan Ward reaches 1,000 rushing yards for second time in career
Jonathan Ward took a handoff and ran a sweep to the left side of Central Michigan's shotgun formation.
Ward, a senior running back, sprinted for a 13-yard gain to move his Chippewas into Toledo territory in the teams' 49-7 win Friday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
He needed just 32 yards going into the game to reach 1,000 rushing yards on the season for the second time in his career. He reached the mark in 2017 as a sophomore. Last season, he had just 212 while appearing in nine games.
Ward finished with 88 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown in the Chippewas' regular season finale and was able to hit the coveted number.
"I knew I could do it and I knew I would do it," Ward said. "I'm happy for myself, but I still have a lot more to prove."
After last season's struggles, Ward said last year's finale against Toledo didn't mean a lot because CMU wasn't playing for anything.
Fast forward one year.
The Chippewas played their season finale against Toledo. This time, the team was playing for a Mid-American Conference West Division title and a win would send CMU to the MAC championship game for the first time since 2009.
Long story short, Central Michigan dominated the Rockets and will head to Ford Field on Dec. 7 to face Miami (Ohio).
Ward and fellow senior linebacker Michael Oliver were up on the conductor's stand and leading the Marching Chips in playing the fight song after the 49-7 win. Ward said he enjoyed the moment, but there is still more to gain.
"That's just the emotion of all of the hard work that's paid off up to this point," Ward said. "We still have another goal to accomplish and when we accomplish that goal, there'll be more dancing."
One of the ways Central Michigan has been able to earn the division title was a balanced offensive attack for the better part of the season.
The Chippewas totaled 2,328 yards on the ground and 3,110 through the air. Ward has picked up 1,056 yards on the ground himself.
"This is by far the best balanced team I've been on in my college career," Ward said. "We've had a lot of great passers, but maybe our rushing wasn't up to par that year or maybe we had good rushing years and the passing wasn't up to par. This year, we have balance, we have the pass game and the rush game so I feel like we're dynamic."
Part of the team's dynamic attack has been spurred by Ward's counterpart in the backfield, junior Kobe Lewis.
Lewis has rushed for 953 yards so far this season and Ward said he didn't even realize the junior had rushed for almost 1,000 yards, like himself. Ward also said he and Lewis have helped the Chippewa rushing defense rank second in the conference.
"I feel as though me and Kobe Lewis are the best backs in the MAC," Ward said, "We help compliment the defense and the defense helps compliment the offense in practice. When you're going against the best all week, that makes the game a little bit easier."
Central Michigan's senior graduate transfer quarterback Quinten Dormady said that he was able to find an offense that fit him when he entered the third different school of his college career.
While Dormady was obviously not around for last season, he said that he was proud of the guys that stuck around and were rewarded with a trip to the MAC title game.
"This has been the most fun year of college football I've had," Dormady said. "It's a special group in the locker room. I continue to say that and I'll say that for the years to come. I'm happy for the guys that were here last year and bounced back this year. It's just special."
Making his first appearance in the conference title game, Ward said it is another game week and he is ready to roll for a MAC championship.
"It'd mean a lot, it's something every team in the MAC sets out to do since day one since summer camp and stuff," Ward said. "To be the team that actually does it, that just goes to show that actions speak louder than words."
On top of that, the team itself is ready to make the trip to Detroit and take on the RedHawks for a championship.
Mainly, the Chippewas are ready to bring a title back home.
"Just go take care of business," Ward said. "We have another week of preparation. We're just going to come in next week and do what we have to do, which is lock-in, focus, learn our opponent and go take care of business to bring a championship to Mount Pleasant."