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FINAL SCORE: Central Michigan 26, Eastern Michigan 23
EMU corrected some mistakes, but not enough to come away with the rivalry win on the road. Bad guys win.
Who knew that the difference in this game was going to be settled on a blocked point-after kick?
After Eastern Michigan re-took the lead in the third quarter, the Eagles were set to take a 3-point lead after a regularly-scheduled PAT kick. But Central, which failed to play clean special teams in the first half, blocked EMU’s kick and had the ball returned all the way for a 2-point conversion.
After 107 straight PAT makes, EMU’s had PAT blocks each of the last two games.
The 2-pointer really changed the landscape of the game. Instead of playing out the situation with what could’ve been a simple 3-point advantage, the blocked kick turned things into a tie game instead and the flow of the game changed with it as well.
On its final drive of the game, down by 3, Eastern (2-3 overall, 0-1 MAC) converted two fourth downs to set up Jesus Gomez for his second field goal of the day. He made his first assignment from 55 yards out earlier in the game, but his second kick from 46 yards away waved right of the goalposts.
Even with clear and obvious improvements on offense, there wasn’t enough coming from Eastern to slow down CMU’s rushing attack (7.1 yards per rush). Central Michigan (3-2 overall, 0-1 MAC)stopped EMU from winning its first game in Kelly/Shorts since 2011, and from having its first two-game win streak in the rivalry series since 2007-08.
CMU won with a final score of 26-23.
Austin Smith played his best game
After struggling through the non-conference portion of the season, QB Austin Smith looked like a guy who was starting to play with more confidence. Stats aside, Smith moved and played like a guy who didn’t second-guess himself the entire time he was out there and it was clear that he really wanted to make more plays happen with the ball in his hands.
For the season, Smith had 49 rushing yards on 27 carries with no scores entering the weekend.
At Kelly/Shorts, Smith was EMU’s leading rusher with 71 rushing yards on 19 carries (3.7 avg.), and one touchdown.
The read option play was a part of Smith’s game that saw a lot of improvement this week. His reads lasted longer and, obviously, kept the ball a lot more than he previously showed this season. While not all of his runs were big gains, and would later be stuffed later on in the game on early downs, there’s no denying that Smith showed a lot of growth in just this one play against Central.
After Samson Evans was stuffed at the goal line on the first drive, Smith drove in the score on a third-down QB sneak for his first rushing score of the year, third of his career. After that, Smith had seven first down pickups with his feet.
However, no first-down runs in the fourth.
In the quick game, Smith proved that he knew what he was doing out there. too. EMU didn’t waste a lot of its play-calling on big pickups way downfield. Instead, Smith was mostly asked to get the ball to his receivers short and let them make plays after the catch. That seemed to be a smart approach for most of the game.
Through the air, Smith was 20-for-26 throwing (76.9%) for 186 yards and one touchdown. While he missed on some deep throws, Smith’s short game led progress this offense hadn’t yet reached this year (51% success rate, 43% success when passing).
EMU built drives together, but CMU eventually made enough stops on the final drive of the game.
Down 26-23 with just under 8 minutes left in the game, CMU came away with tackles for losses on the first and second plays, but Smith connected with Tanner Knue for a first-down throw from 15 yards away on third down. After a 3rd & 10 pass was completed short of the sticks, Smith’s deep pass to Hamze El-Zayat was broken up, but a CMU hand in El-Zayat’s facemask moved the ball up 15 yards with a new set of downs. After three more plays, another 4th down call from CMU’s 35-yard line was made: a quick pass to J.B. Mitchell for a short, clutch gain. Then with the third 4th down of the drive, EMU sent out the field goal team for a 3-point play from CMU’s 28.
Gomez’s kick, unfortunately, slid just to the right of where he needed it to go.
That was Central’s second, big, defensive series on it side of the field. After EMU scored on its 9-play, 65-yard drive to open, it was stuffed short in the red zone to force a turnover on downs.
Evans, who was stuffed just short of the end zone in the opening drive and had the ball popped out of his security just before scoring against UMass two weeks ago, was stuffed three times in a row to begin the second quarter — he was dropped for a 1-yard loss on 2nd & 7 from CMU’s 12, gained 7 yards on a short pass, then stuffed for no gain on 4th & 1.
Good new for Evans, on the PR side, is that he was finally able to crack the end zone for a second time this season. Considering the historical marks, it was a relief watching Evans get into the end zone for the 31st time of his career. To finish a 7-play, 75-yard drive for the Eagles, Evans scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter to give his team a 23-19 edge.
The touchdown score ties EMU’s program record for most touchdowns scored in a single career (rushing + receiving) with Gary Patton (1984-87).
Not out of bounds?
Central Michigan’s second touchdown score was a questionable one, but the rules are the rules.
Chris Parker, CMU’s receiver on the play, caught Jase Bauer’s pass before the end zone and the toes of his second step were spotted out of bounds. But it was a touchdown before his toes hit the white paint.
Parker was in the process of catching the pass with one foot down, and the other foot crossed the plane before his second foot came down. A secured catch with one foot in bounds and the second crossing the goal line plane inside the pylon was, after a review, good enough for a touchdown in the second quarter to make it a 14-10 game.
Despite big miss, Gomez re-ties school record
The last kick attempt is obviously the one that’ll define how the game went, but the first kick was big enough to get everybody’s attention.
Not like he hasn’t done that before, though.
Following the turnover on downs, EMU’s third drive went 12 plays for just 41 yards and sent Gomez to kick a long field goal. The kick was hammered through perfectly, and that became the second 55-yard make of Gomez’s career.
From 55 yards out, that kick also tied the school record which was also accomplished by Dylan Mulder, Chad Ryland, and Gomez just last year.
CMU’s ground game too strong
Central Michigan simply dominated on the ground. Even with Bauer’s 73% passing day, it was CMU’s ground game that pushed through the Eastern defense.
For turnovers, EMU was able to get Bauer to throw his first pick of the season in the first half. Bauer’s pass was tipped up by Joe Sparacio and caught by Quentavius Scandrett. The interception led to Gomez’s 55-yard kick, and was the only turnover of the day.
Neither Myles Bailey nor Marion Lukes were brought down behind the line of scrimmage. Combined, the two CMU running backs had 19 carries for 139 yards, and Lukes came away with the go-ahead 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Lukes, also, started the game off with a bang. If not for a holding penalty by a CMU blocker on special teams, Lukes opened the game off with a 102-yard kick return for a touchdown.
CMU’s offense finished with a 50% success rate (54% on rushes), 193 yards on 27 carries. The only two negative plays CMU’s offense suffered were an 8-yard sack against Bauer, and a 2-yard loss after a reception by Stephan Bracy Jr.
CMU’s ground game kept the offense ahead of the sticks and out of third downs. CMU was just 2/6 on third downs, EMU was 7/14 in that category.
Knue led EMU’s receiving efforts with 7 catches (9 targets) on 68 yards, 28 yards after catch.
Chase Kline led EMU’s tackling with 12 total and a pass breakup. Joe Sparacio, who wore the #0 jersey, respectively, finished with 8 and 2.
CMU’s offense finished with 411 total yards over 53 plays for a 7.8 yards per play average. EMU’s average: 5.3 (341-64).