Chippewas stun FIU with fourth quarter rally
Daniel Richardson waited for his moment, and when he got it, he took advantage.
Entering midway through the third quarter for starter Jacob Sirmon, Richardson led a three-and-out and fumbled on his first two drives. Down 17 heading into the fourth quarter, Central Michigan's hopes of victory looked bleak.
Yet, 14 minutes of game time later, Richardson was perched above the Chippewa bench, screaming into the crowd and celebrating his go-ahead touchdown pass to Dallas Dixon.
"He did what he was expected to do," said head coach Jim McElwain. "He did his job and I'm happy for him."
Richardson led three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, concluding with his 27-yard strike to Dixon. On the strength of this comeback, the Chippewas (2-2) rallied to beat Florida International (1-3), 31-27, Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
"Us figuring out a way to win at home just means so much," McElwain said. "I told our guys we just need to be 1-0 after this and then we start league play."
How it happened
A sluggish start left the Chippewas and Panthers deadlocked in a scoreless tie after one quarter. CMU had its chances, but drives into FIU territory ended with a missed field goal, an interception and a turnover on downs.
A 35-yard field goal by freshman kicker Marshall Meeder put the Chippewas in front, 3-0. This, however, woke up the Panther offense. Quarterback Max Bortenschlager hit Tyrese Chambers for two big gains, the latter being a 31-yard touchdown to give FIU the lead.
Bortenschlager and company would go up 14-3 late in the first half after a 99-yard drive highlighted by a 75-yard completion to Bryce Singleton. Hope looked nearly lost for CMU after going three-and-out, but punter Luke Elzinga's boot took a perfect bounce off the arm of an FIU return man.
After getting great field position, Sirmon linked with receiver Dallas Dixon for the Chippewas' first touchdown for the afternoon. CMU entered the half trailing 14-10.
Sirmon led the team into FIU territory on the Chippewas' first drive of the second half, but Meeder missed from 45 yards out and the drive came up empty. The Panthers responded quickly, with another long completion from Bortenschlager to Chambers setting up D'Vonte Price's five-yard touchdown run.
FIU continued its wave of momentum when Rishard Dames returned a blocked Elzinga punt for a score to make it 27-10 heading into the fourth quarter. Down 17 with 15 minutes left, the Chippewa offense found resurgence when they needed it most.
"We needed a spark," McElwain said.
Led by Richardson, the Chippewas orchestrated back-to-back touchdown drives to start the fourth. The latter, a highlight-reel grab by JaCorey Sullivan, cut the FIU lead to 27-24 with 7:12 remaining.
FIU answered with a big completion from Bortenschlager to Singleton, but was forced to try a field goal after two straight incompletions from the Chippewa 12-yard line. Chase Gabriel's attempt was no good, giving the ball back to the Chippewas with 4:06 remaining.
Richardson connected with Pimpleton for 38 yards on the first play of the series. Yet, the Chippewas gained four yards over the next four plays and turned the ball over on downs when Richardson threw incomplete for Sullivan.
After stopping the Panthers, Richardson got the ball back and led a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. He hit Dixon on a slant, with Dixon's shiftiness doing the rest en route to the end zone. Leading 31-27, FIU got one last drive.
"As I made my break, I had sensed or felt that (the defender) had fallen," Dixon said. "So that made it easy. I had a lane to the outside I could've ran to. Seen the safety overpursuing, which gave me a good cutback lane. From there, it was just the end zone."
Donte Kent appeared to end the game with an interception, but the play was ruled incomplete after another look. Bortenschlager made the most of his new life, hitting Singleton for a big gain. Yet, Donte Kent picked off Bortenschlager's pass in the end zone on the game's final play to cement the win.
Sirmon finished 14-for-26 for 121 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was replaced by Richardson after a three-and-out that ended with a blocked punt. In his stead, Richardson went 16-for-23 for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
Lew Nichols paced the Chippewa ground attack with 161 yards on 25 carries and added a receiving touchdown.
Dixon led the team with 127 receiving yards on eight catches, while Pimpleton surpassed the century mark for the first time all year with 117 receiving yards.
Defensively, CMU's front seven was a force and sacked Bortenschlager five times. However, the Chippewa secondary struggled as freshmen Kent and Daedae Hill were each beat for big gains. Bortenschlager finished the day 20-for-37 for 395 yards and two touchdowns.
"The focus moving forward, we've got a lot of things we need to clean up," McElwain said. "That's two weeks in a row we've been exposed in the back end. And yet, I like our athletes and they're gonna make these plays as we move forward."
The Chippewas begin conference play with a trip to Oxford, Ohio to take on Miami (1-3).