'Nothing better than holding up that trophy': Former Chippewas recount 2007 MAC championship
Redshirt freshman running back Carl Volny thought the experience was unreal.
Sophomore safety Eric Fraser billed it as just another game while his classmate, quarterback Dan LeFevour, likened it to a business trip.
"We had been playing really good football at that point," LeFevour said. "There was sort of an expectation with the way we had played in conference that that would continue. The potential for a second MAC championship was all the motivation we needed."
Regardless of the emotions that each individual attached to the environment, the anticipation pounded at the walls of Central Michigan's locker room before kickoff on Dec. 1, 2007.
When Central Michigan and Miami (Ohio) square off in the Mid-American Conference championship game this season, on Saturday, Dec. 7 at Ford Field, it will be a rematch of this contest that took place 12 years ago.
A year prior, in 2006, the Chippewas trounced Ohio University 31-10 for the crown, led by LeFevour's 349 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Two of those touchdowns went to senior receiver Damien Linson, who graduated following the season.
Despite a grueling nonconference slate loaded with the likes of Kansas, Purdue and Clemson, the Chippewas used a 6-1 mark in the conference to finish the regular season at 7-5. They clinched the berth in the title game with a 34-31 win over Western Michigan in Week 10.
After suffering their only conference loss to Eastern Michigan a week later, LeFevour scored a late touchdown to complete a 15-point comeback in a 35-32 win over Akron to close the regular season.
"It was the first game where we had snow on the ground," LeFevour said of the finale at Akron. "We didn't let the weather bother us. We got behind early, but we started to click as the game went on."
Whereas Central Michigan entered the title game at 7-5, the RedHawks came in at 6-6.
Each team was making their second MAC championship game appearance, however, the Chippewas held the advantage of being the reigning champions.
"We were confident because we only lost one game in the MAC," Fraser said. "We had been there the year before, played in Ford Field and understood the situation."
"We were determined not to lose," Volny added.
Neither team scored on their first possession.
After Miami turned the ball over on downs, the Chippewas took over at their own 37. Central Michigan went 63 yards in 13 plays, converting a trio of third downs. The last third down conversion was a 3-yard toss from LeFevour to freshman receiver Kito Poblah for the opening score of the game.
After LeFevour threw a pair of second quarter interceptions, including one in the red zone, the Chippewas turned the ball over on downs with two seconds remaining in the half to go into the locker room up just 7-0.
Although the offense was struggling, the defense was pitching a shutout.
Fraser remembered the locker room brimming with confidence. He recalled the Chippewas recognizing the strength of their nonconference schedule as well as the depth of the MAC West Division.
"We were positive," LeFevour said. "We were up 7-0 and we still had 30 minutes of football left. We had turned it on at various points in the year, so we were still very confident."
From 2006-09, the Chippewas never lost to a team from the MAC East Division.
Both teams punted on each of their first two possessions of the second half. The RedHawks got on the board with a 38-yard field goal by Nathan Parseghian to make it 7-3, but the Chippewas were able to snap out of their offensive funk.
A 9-yard pass to freshman tight end JJ Watt was sandwiched between two LeFevour runs of 20-plus yards, the latter being a 21-yard score with 5:03 left in the third quarter.
The RedHawks squandered a chance at points as Parseghian missed a 33-yard field goal.
Central Michigan answered with a 1-yard rushing score from junior Ontario Sneed for a 21-3 edge less than three minutes into the fourth quarter. After Miami reached the end zone on a touchdown from Daniel Raudabaugh to Armand Robinson, Sneed reached scored again – this time from 7 yards – to make it 28-10.
Sneed, who finished his Chippewa career the following season with a total of 2,863 yards and 28 touchdowns, passed away on Aug. 14, 2012. He served as a mentor to Volny, who vividly recalled the effect his teammate had on him.
"I respected Sneed so much," Volny said. "He was like a coach to me and the other guys in the group. Even when he was hurt, he was still coaching us. He taught me a lot."
Sneed finished the MAC Championship with 17 carries for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
"Sneed always had a big game," Volny added. "Seeing him on the big stage and doing what he's done was amazing to watch. He wasn't an individual teammate or selfish, he was (the definition) of a team player at its best."
Miami took its ensuing drive into Central Michigan territory, but Fraser came up with an interception and returned it into RedHawk territory.
The interception was the icing on the cake of what could be called a career night for Fraser, who finished with 10 tackles to go with the interception.
However, Fraser doesn't see it that way because of the ones that he didn't reel in.
"I'm still haunted by the fact that I dropped two other balls in that game," he said.
LeFevour and company cashed in on the turnover, as the sophomore quarterback ran for a 24-yard touchdown to make the score 35-10 with 4:45 remaining.
Raudabaugh was intercepted by Chaz West late, giving the ball back to CMU for its final drive before celebrating. After Sneed broke a 14-yard run, the Chippewas were two kneel downs away from their second consecutive championship.
For LeFevour, the kneel downs were statistically important. He was teetering on the edge of becoming the just the second quarterback at the time to throw for over 3,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 in the same season.
"Honestly, I had no idea that was possible at that point," LeFevour said. "They told me at the end of the game when we were taking knees to run out the clock, 'Don't go too far back,' then when I came off the field they told me what had happened."
Fortunately, LeFevour stayed above the 1,000-yard plateau and the Chippewas closed out their second consecutive title. The sophomore quarterback finished the game 24 of 34 passing for 185 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions, while he also added 20 carries for 170 yards and two scores on the ground.
It was a special game for Volny, who took a redshirt season the year prior. Though he finished with four carries for just 11 yards to go with two catches for 10, it was simply experiencing the moment that sticks with him.
"To get some reps during the game was the best moment for me," Volny said. "I had the trust of my teammates and coaches to go out on the field and do my best to help our team win."
For the 2007 Central Michigan squad, the championship was simply the vindication of an expectation.
"We went so hard that year," Fraser said. "It was the hardest offseason program anyone had ever seen."
"It was great," LeFevour said. "I think there was a certain expectation as the year was going on, that was what we needed to do and that's what we were capable of accomplishing. There's nothing better than holding up that trophy after a long season."
LeFevour, Fraser and Volny went continued past CMU to play professional football. LeFevour was with multiple NFL squads and eventually joined Fraser and Volny in the Canadian Football League.
Twelve years later, each has strong ties to their alma mater.
"It's been awesome to watch," LeFevour said of the 2019 Chippewas' turnaround. "The job that coach Mac and his staff have done, taking a 1-11 team now to 8-4 and playing in complete control of their destiny. The way they took control of the MAC West, it's been awesome to watch."
"I wish I could go support the guys," Fraser added. "It's something they won't forget no matter what they do after CMU."
"I have no regrets with anything," Volny said of his time at CMU, which stretched from 2006-10. "I bleed maroon and gold."
Though all three had different feelings going into the game, they each came out as part of a brethren of champions. On Saturday, the latest edition of Central Michigan Chippewas will look to join that group.
A brethren united with flying C's and championship rings.