CMU football defeats EMU in front of record breaking crowd

Junior running back Marion Lukes, 9, rushes the ball during a game against Eastern Michigan, Saturday, Sept. 30 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium. On this play, Lukes scored a touchdown on a 24 yard run. (CM-Life | Marie Underwood)

With Central Michigan football leading by three, Eastern Michigan kicker Jesus Gomez walked out to attempt a game-tying field goal from 46-yards out. 

Facing the loud screams from the record-breaking crowd in Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Gomez missed the kick to the right to secure a CMU win in its Mid-American Conference opener, 26-23.

The Chippewas had help with the win as over 28,000 fans made their presence known, making it the most attended home football game for CMU since 2016 and the 10th most attended of all-time at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

“For these kids, they play their hearts out,” head coach Jim McElwain said. “We might not be the most talented outfit in the country. But I do know this, they're bringing the pride of the Chippewa back and as I said, at the beginning of the season, I really believe in these kids in that locker room and see the fans out there enjoying it.”

Emotions were high in the 101st meeting between the two teams, as the Chippewas came into the game with the last matchup against the Eagles in the back of their minds. 

Last year, CMU fell to EMU 38-19 to end the season. McElwain characterized that performance as the “absolute worst loss” in his coaching career. The loss made the team want the win of their MAC opener even more. 

“I'm just speaking personally and being honest, I've never felt as miserable in my entire life as I did walking off this great field a year ago, knowing that our guys didn't give their all,” McElwain said. 

Running backs Marion Lukes and Myles Bailey better known as the M&M duo, provided a big spark for the CMU offense in the win, combining for a total of 228 yards. Lukes also secured the go-ahead touchdown to put the Chippewas ahead by three with less than eight minutes to play.

“Myles did a good job of wearing them down,” Lukes said. “You know he's a big guy, 225 pounds, you got to tackle that all day. And then you just throw me in there, and I get to use my speed and just beat them around the edge.” 

The Chippewa offense came out firing on the opening drive, running over the Eagles defense with a nine play, 91-yard drive. The drive was capped off by a four-yard rushing touchdown from quarterback Jase Bauer to give CMU an early 7-0 lead. 

Along with securing the first score, Bauer accounted for 55 yards in the drive, securing 43 yards through the air and 12 on the ground. He ended the day with 218 passing yards along with two touchdowns and an interception. 

“I feel really comfortable,” Bauer said. “... We're starting to click on all cylinders. Coach (McElwain) is putting a great game plan for us together … That group out there, it's a really special group. And we're doing pretty well, just gotta keep it going.”

Following a kickoff that went out of bounds, EMU also found success in its opening drive of the game. The Eagles drove down the field and secured a touchdown on a quarterback sneak from Austin Smith to tie the score at seven. 

With time winding down in the second half and CMU down three, the Chippewa offense looked for a spark before halftime. They found just that as Bauer connected with wide receiver Chris Parker for a 19-yard touchdown to give CMU the lead, 14-10 heading into the half.

“That's another huge situation we work on all the time,” McElwain said. “We go down and put it in the endzone. So, it's our guys (understanding the) situations, and we work it all the time, and it's an expectation. Obviously, that was huge knowing we took the ball, and they were going to get it coming out at half.”

The Eagles seemed to have all the momentum to start the third quarter as they easily drove down the field against the Chippewa defense to secure a touchdown. However, on the extra point attempt, CMU’s Jayden Evans came up with a blocked kick that was then returned back by Dakota Cochran to give the Chippewas two points and tie the game at 16. 

“He's a taller guy, Jayden (Evans)," McElwain said. "He walked on the football program, and we're trying to find a place for him to play … And I was just really happy for him.” 

With CMU down by four and just over eight minutes to play, Lukes stepped up in the moment and rushed for a 24-yard touchdown to give the lead to the Chippewas, 26-23. 

“I've been there before,” Lukes said. “Before the play started, I told myself we need to score and I wanted to be the guy to do it, or at least help out the team doing it. And (to) just be actually able to fulfill that, it felt amazing.”

Prior to the touchdown, Lukes propelled the CMU offense by securing 47 total yards in the go-ahead drive. 

As the Eagles looked to answer with a score of their own, the Chippewa defense felt the energy from the crowd as linebacker Kyle Moretti delivered with two sacks. With just under a minute remaining, defensive back Donte Kent came up with a pass breakup on a crucial third down that got Kelly/Shorts Stadium loud and forced EMU to a field goal try. 

“We had to stop them and get the ball back to the offense, and that's game,” Moretti said. “Coach Akey, he set us up for success, and I just did my job and the D-line, they did great today, DBs did great. I’m just a product of them.”

With the pressure of the crowd, the Eagles missed the field goal attempt, giving the Chippewas their first MAC win. 

CMU improves to 3-2 overall and 1-0 in conference play while EMU falls to 2-3 overall and 0-1 in MAC play. 

The Chippewas look to stay in the win column as they travel to Buffalo, New York to face off against Buffalo on Saturday at 2 p.m.