KENT, OHIO – The Central Michigan Chippewas rebounded from a recent home loss to Toledo by opening a 17-0 first quarter lead on the Kent State Golden Flashes and adding on for a 27-14 victory on a windy, sometimes rainy Wednesday night at Dix Stadium.
The win made Central Michigan (6-5, 5-2 MAC) bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season and the eighth time in the last 10 campaigns. In addition, CMU has won three of their last four games overall including three in a row away from home.
Meanwhile, Kent State (3-8, 2-5 MAC) suffered its fourth consecutive defeat and fifth in the last six games finishing its home record at 2-4.
“I am proud of how our guys battled tonight.” KSU head man Paul Haynes said. “We were a little short-handed on defense with some of our guys banged up, but they went out there and fought like crazy.”
The visitors from Mount Pleasant opened scoring on the game’s first possession. Going into a gusty 22 mile-an-hour wind, junior quarterback Cooper Rush moved CMU from its own 26 to the KSU six, where the drive stalled. Junior PK Brian Eavey connected on a 23-yard field goal to give the Chippewas a 3-0 lead.
The CMU defense held the Golden Flashes to a three-and-out on their first possession and got the ball back on a punt. Rush then engineered an eight-play, 80-yard drive that included three big pass completions of 35, 12, and 25 yards to reach the KSU two. From there, junior RB Jahray blasted up the middle for a touchdown, extending the lead to 10-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Flashes’ Earnest Calhoun tried to field the kick with a running start. It backfired as he fumbled and the Chippewas gained possession on the KSU 25.
The offense needed just five plays for another touchdown as Rush found senior TE Ben McCord all alone in the end zone to make the score 17-0.
Despite the wind and the intermittent rain, Rush completed 20-of-34 passes for 337 yards and the touchdown to McCord. The yardage gives him 3,312 yards for the season -- fourth best in school history.
Late in the opening quarter, redshirt freshman QB George Bollas got the Flashes offense moving for the first time in the game. He engineered a 15-play 76-yard drive, accounting for 45 of the yards himself. The drive ended when senior RB Trayion Durham punched his way over the goal line for a three-yard score to make it 17-7 at 11:37 of the second period.
Central Michigan added to its lead with 3:10 remaining before intermission when Eavey connected for his second field goal -- this one from 35 yards out extending the lead to 20-7.
On the ensuing Kent State possession, junior Colin Reardon came into the game to give Bollas a breather. Reardon similarly came in against Buffalo in the Flashes’ previous home game against Buffalo, and KSU built a 17-6 lead before losing in the final moments, 18-17.
Reardon got the KSU offense rolling against Central. completing passes of 15, 30, and 17 yards. The drive reached Central Michigan’s six, where he found freshman WR Johnny Woods with a bullet in the end zone to cut the deficit to six, 20-14, just before the halftime break.
There would be just one more score the rest of the way. That came midway through the third quarter. Kent State punted out of its own end zone and against the wind, moving the ball out to its own 42.
With the short field, Rush needed only seven snaps for the score. The big play was a 25-yard completion to sophomore WR Corey Willis putting the ball at the KSU one. Willis was one of two Chippewas who had over 100 yards receiving. He registered six catches for 131 yards, while senior WR Jesse Kroll, CMU’s leading receiver on the season, had seven receptions for 139 yards.
Hayes capped the drive with his second touchdown of the game as he plunged into the middle of the line. Officials ruled that the ball did break the plane of the goal line.
Kent State had a chance to stay in the game. Late in the third quarter, with Reardon at quarterback, KSU moved from its own 31 to the CMU 22 before the defense stiffened. PK Shane Hynes came on for a 39-yard field goal attempt, which he missed wide to the right.
From that point on, the final period was all CMU. Even though they did not score, the Chippewas put together a pair of time consuming drives that sealed their verdict. Along with those drives was the Chippewas defense held Kent State to seven plays and just four yards.
“I thought defensively in the second half we played outstanding.” Bonamego said.
Both teams will finish their regular seasons on Friday with CMU hosting Eastern Michigan, while the Flashes make the short trip to Akron to battle the Zips.