The anatomy of Central Michigan's game-winning drive against Ball State
Everything started when senior backup quarterback Tommy Lazzaro scored from 5 yards out.
Lazzaro couldn't contain his excitement and yelled in jubilation. While his celebration drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the score itself cut Ball State's lead to just four points. Senior kicker Ryan Tice's extra point made it a three-point contest.
After trailing by 17 points in the third quarter on Nov. 16 at Scheumann Stadium, the Chippewas clawed their way back into the game. What looked like a blowout earlier in the second half had become a ball game.
It was time to finish the job.
After forcing the Cardinals to punt, the Chippewas took over deep in their territory. Senior graduate transfer quarterback Quinten Dormady was sacked on a third-and-3, and Central Michigan was forced to punt the ball away.
Punting from his end zone, sophomore Brady Buell sent the ball back to the Cardinals.
Ball State took over at midfield, 50 yards away from a touchdown that would've salted away the game.
It didn't start well, as Cardinal quarterback Drew Plitt hit Antwan Davis for an 18-yard gain. Junior running back Caleb Huntley pushed forward for another first down, putting the ball on Central Michigan's 17-yard line.
"That (Ball State) was slowing down," said sophomore linebacker Troy Brown. "They took their foot off the gas pedal."
Brown and the defense locked in, forcing an incompletion on a third-and-9.
Ball State brought out its field goal unit, and Ryan Rimmler's 33-yard field goal made it 44-38 in favor of the Cardinals.
"In the fourth quarter we won four of the five third downs," said defensive coordinator Robb Akey. "We got our act together a little bit."
There was 5:09 remaining. It was last call time for the Chippewa offense.
While Brown and his defensive teammates were making their pivotal stand, the offense began to gather. They knew what was at stake and wanted to be prepared when they needed to take the field.
"They went and scripted, like you would the first drive of the game or first drive of the second half," said first-year coach Jim McElwain. "(The coaches) gave the players what we were gonna do and the players went and executed."
"It's not about the plays, it's about the players executing," said offensive coordinator Charlie Frye. "There were guys on the sideline, and when (Ball State) kicked a field goal, they understood that we had to go down and score."
Dormady, the double graduate transfer who has been through many ups and downs, had just four impactful words for his unit before taking the field: "Let's go be great."
"Big games are gonna come down to the last drive when you've gotta go out and execute," Dormady said.
It started with an incomplete pass and a 3-yard gain for senior running back Jonathan Ward. Facing a third-and-7, the Chippewas' backs appeared to be against the wall.
Dormady had other ideas, hitting Ward out of the backfield for an 18-yard gain to move the chains. Two plays later, he connected with sophomore receiver Kalil Pimpleton for 27 yards.
After an incompletion, Dormady threw a pass to junior receiver JaCorey Sullivan on a corner route to move the chains. Although the pass was originally ruled incomplete, it was determined that Sullivan secured the ball. The completion gave Central Michigan a first down on Ball State's 11-yard line.
The Chippewas were in striking distance.
Lazzaro punched it in from 2 yards out, and Tice's extra point gave the Chippewas a one-point advantage, 45-44.
Just 61 seconds remained in the contest.
"The sense of urgency and focusing on the details, that's what I saw," Frye said. "Plays will always be plays, it's about the players going out and executing their jobs and doing what they're doing for each other so that we can go out and win the game."
"For that last drive, (it was about) just execution," Dormady said. "Going out and being great."
It would be up to the defense to get the final stop and secure the comeback victory.
The defense allowed 499 yards of offense and two running backs over 100 yards on the ground. The game was not over, and the Chippewa defense was entering their metaphorical "Ring of Fire" stage of the contest.
Brown, Akey and others were licking their chops.
"Our defense, as a whole, we know when we're working together we're pretty much unstoppable," Brown said. "We knew we had to come away with the takeaway."
"The good Lord created the defense to give the ball back to the offense without giving up points," Akey said.
In the spirit of coach Herman Boone, the Chippewas did not allow another yard. Three consecutive incompletions led to a pivotal fourth-and-10 for Ball State.
"I was just dropping back," Brown said. "Our defensive line did a good job of getting pressure and (Plitt) was forced to throw on a scramble. He threw it to me and I knew I had to make a play."
Brown's third interception of the season sealed the victory. Three kneel downs later, the Chippewas made the victory official.
McElwain hugged numerous players. Pimpleton and Ward did multiple backflips. The field was full of ecstatic Chippewas.
It was pandemonium.
McElwain: "Signature wins happen when adversity hits. We had a lot of it today."
Akey: "The bottom line is we won the game. You better appreciate that because wins are hard to get."
Frye: "They (the players) showed the resiliency to not just get back into the game, but to finish it. It's not easy to do and they should feel very proud."
Dormady: "I've been through a lot personally. To get this win, with this group of guys, I can't tell you what it means to me."
For Dormady, it may very well be a career-defining victory.
For McElwain, it may boost him to the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year award.
In a game with MAC West Division title implications, the Chippewas got it done.
A team that finished 1-11 last season battled together to secure a victory from the jaws of defeat.
"They stuck together," Frye said. "It's awesome to see that."