FINAL SCORE: Eastern Michigan 24, Buffalo 11
Time to get ready for EMU's sixth bowl game in eight years.
It’s so easy to remember, but it’s been almost as easy to forget with time. When Eastern Michigan hired Chris Creighton 10 years ago, this team did not look like this.
The last night of MACtion for EMU, and it decided to play tough. Forget the fact that it HAD a losing record, forget the fact that it was cold and rainy out, and forget the fact that this team hadn’t won a road game all season long. There’s just one game that stood between EMU and the chance to make history in a bowl game — EMU’s never won one of those two years in a row — and this team refused to finish its season without one.
There was no quit, and there was no backing down. EMU demanded its 24-11 win at Buffalo on Tuesday night, and now it demands a position on the bowl schedule.
Easily the best-played first half of the year
That was the kind of start EMU fans have been waiting all year to see. A 24-0 halftime lead is better than any opening half EMU has played this year.
Buffalo fumbled the ball away twice, and Eastern’s offense made plays happen time and time again. Samson Evans showed a lot of muscle, Jaylon Jackson showed off his dance moves, and Austin Smith played his most confident football of the season. These three accounted for 155 total rushing yards and 3 total touchdowns in the first half and finished the half with maybe its most impressive-looking drive of the year.
After a Buffalo punt, EMU took over with the football on its own 5-yard line with just two minutes left on the clock. The safe way of handling the situation would’ve been to run for a first down, and try to let the clock drip down to halftime. Instead, J.B. Mitchell caught two passes (one accidentally) for 42 yards, Jackson and Jere Getzinger caught two more passes for 17 yards, then Smith hurried up to pick up 24 yards on the ground. Another pair of passes to Jackson and Getzinger got EMU to burn a timeout at the 1-yard line with 12 seconds remaining. Evans, who ran tough all night long, scored on the next play for his 41st career touchdown.
Up to that point, EMU had scores off of a 5-yard Smith run, a 19-yard swing pass to Jackson, and a 29-yard field goal from Jesus Gomez after he missed his first attempt.
Buffalo more showed life in second half, but not enough to match
In a lot of ways, this EMU defense has been the crutch of this team. EMU’s offense played its best start to a football game all year, and the defense came through with stop after stop. The defense usually hasn’t been tasked to rally in the second half with somewhat comfortable leads, but that was the task against Buffalo.
And those stops proved to be paramount in the second half when EMU’s offense ran out of gas.
EMU’s defense wiped Buffalo off the field with four turnovers on downs all game including three in the second half. Justin Jefferson was all over the field in the first half. Alex Merritt had loud stops in the second half, including a 4th & 1 stop on EMU’s 15-yard line. Joey Zelinski’s third down stop on the following drive forced Buffalo to settle for a 40-yard field goal on its final drive of the game.
The only touchdown Buffalo grabbed came in the middle of the third quarter when a Ron Cook Jr. score up the middle finished a 56-yard drive, which was followed-up with a 2-point pass play from Cole Snyder to Cameron Ball.
Snyder was able to find some longer passes during this game, but was only 11/26 for 135 yards while Smith out-played him with a line of 19/27 for 141 yards.
After UB kicked its field goal in the fourth quarter, smart and strong running efforts by Smith and Jackson led EMU to drain out the rest of the game clock with six minutes to play, and wouldn’t let Buffalo touch the ball the rest of the way.
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Onto bowl game #6
College football’s playoff culture is slowly diminishing the value of bowl games on a grander scale, but man does this upcoming bowl trip mean the world to EMU. Bowl games have never been the year-in, year-out expectation for this football team but Chris Creighton has truly changed the national understanding for EMU.
Because of his coaching and leadership, EMU finishes the regular season with more football to look forward to this year. We’ll find out next week exactly where EMU’s going, but the important thing to note is this: EMU’s going to a damn bowl game again; for the sixth time in eight seasons. Since EMU made its first bowl trip with Creighton in 2015, the only times EMU has missed out on playing more football in December was in 2017 when the team went 5-7 and in the 2020 Covid year.
No, this hasn’t been a story-book season. No, a potential bowl win in December doesn’t correct everything that’s gone wrong for this football team this year. But EMU woke up this morning and made the collective decision to play, maybe, its best football game of the year, and now its fans get to celebrate with just one more football game to look forward to next month — a new normal for them.
Last year’s trip to Boise, Idaho featured EMU’s first bowl win in 35 years against San Jose State, which just so happened to also be a rematch of the 1987 Cal Bowl.
It took that long just for EMU to see its second bowl victory, now EMU has the chance to do something it has never done before: win two bowls in a row. If there was ever a time for EMU to believe that it was going to make that happen, I’m sure that ending the season with your most impressive victory of the year is going to build a little bit of confidence heading into postseason play.
Soloman Bell recovered Buffalo’s first fumble in the first quarter, then Joe Sparacio/Quentavius Scandrett caused the second which eventually rolled out of the end zone for a touchback.
J.B. Mitchell led EMU’s receiving with 7 catches for 75 yards.
Evans finished with 127 yards on 22 carries, and 1 TD. Jackson had 72 yards on 16 carries.
Evans did fumble the ball away once in scoring territory, but Buffalo ended up turning the ball over on downs with Merritt’s stop on the next drive.
Chase Kline and Joe Sparacio, you guessed it, led the team with 8 tackles each. Quentavius Scandrett, in the #0 uniform, had 7.
EMU’s offense finished with 367 total yards of offense on 73 plays, its second-most amount of offensive yards of the year (371 vs. UMass).
EMU’s 226 rushing yards is the most it’s had this year.
EMU was 5/16 on third downs and 2/2 on fourths while Buffalo was 3/12 on thirds and 1/6 on fourths.
Chris Creighton now has 191 all-time career coaching wins to his name (52-67 at EMU).