Disaster: Late miscue costs Chippewas in loss to NIU

Running back Lew Nichols III runs for a touchdown on Sat. Oct. 23, Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Central Michigan looked to have the game in its hands. 

After a key fourth down conversion, the Chippewas sent out the field goal unit to try a 40-yarder with 10 seconds left. Kicker Marshall Meeder had made eight straight attempts. Fans rose to their feet expecting the kick to send them into euphoria. 

Instead, there was disaster. 

The snap from long snapper Franklin Lama shot through the hands of holder Luke Elzinga and past Meeder, eventually recovered by an NIU defender and sealing the fate of the Chippewas. The Huskies (6-2, 4-0 Mid-American Conference) knocked off CMU (4-4, 2-2 MAC) 39-38 Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. 

"They played the game the way they want to play it," said CMU coach Jim McElwain. "They kept it close and beat us at the end." 

How it happened

Offense was the story early, as the first five drives of the game each ended with points. The Chippewas, who have longed to start games fast, got an explosive 66-yard touchdown run from running back Lew Nichols to open the game. 

The Chippewas got another explosive play two drives later, as quarterback Daniel Richardson uncorked a 72-yard strike to receiver Kalil Pimpleton. This score put CMU in the driver's seat, 21-10. A 22-yard touchdown pass from Richardson to JaCorey Sullivan made it 28-10 with 4:59 left in the half and matched the Chippewas' highest first half scoring output of the season. 

NIU got some momentum back on its final drive of the first half, as quarterback Rocky Lombardi engineered a drive with two fourth down conversions. Lombardi hit Trayvon Rudolph for a 15-yard score, and a two-point conversion cut the Chippewa lead to 28-18 heading into halftime. 

The Chippewas pushed the lead to 35-18 to open the second half, capitalizing on good field position created by stopping the Huskies on downs. Tight end Joel Wilson was responsible for the scoring, catching a four-yard toss from Richardson. 

Lombardi and company woke up quickly, as he hit a streaking Rudolph for a 75-yard score on the next play from scrimmage. A field goal made it 35-29, then a long completion from Lombardi to Tyrice Richie set up Clint Ratkovitch's go-ahead touchdown. 

"I feel like, in a way, we had a lack of focus," said senior defensive end Troy Hairston. "I feel like we let that score determine how we were gonna come out in that second half and I don't feel like we came out in the second half the way the Chippewas do it." 

Thanks to a pair of timely runs by Nichols, the Chippewas answered with a scoring drive. Marshall Meeder made his eighth consecutive field goal from 38 yards out, giving CMU a two-point lead with 6:01 remaining. 

NIU drove into Chippewa territory and converted another fourth down when Rudolph took a reverse around the right side for seven yards. The Chippewas held strong on third-and-short later in the drive, setting up Woodill's go-ahead field goal. 

Richardson led the comeback drive, hitting Nichols and Dixon for big gains to set up a field goal attempt. However, the snap on the attempt got past Elzinga and was recovered by the Huskies to seal the win. 

"We've got a ton of young guys, and again, I really like this football team," McElwain said. "I like our locker room, I like our guys. Let's stay together, let's not let one close loss like this define who we are."

Key performers 

Nichols finished the day with 192 yards and a score. Richardson tied a career-high with three touchdown passes and finished with 289 yards passing. Sullivan, in his first game back from injury, caught six passes for 63 yards. 

Pimpleton led the team in receiving with 130 yards and a score. 

What's next?

CMU enters its bye week. The team will play next on Nov. 3, a game in Kalamazoo against rival Western Michigan.