With their already precarious Mid-American Conference West title hopes potentially hanging in the balance, the Central Michigan Chippewas found their backs against the wall in the closing seconds of Saturday’s game against the Miami RedHawks at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
Miami quarterback Andrew Hendrix had driven his team nearly 80 yards in less than two minutes. With no time on the clock -- but one more play available following a defensive pass interference penalty -- Hendrix tried to connect with freshman Sam Martin just inside the end zone. When the pass fell incomplete, CMU owned a hard-fought 34-27 victory.
"I'm proud of our guys - we found a way to win," CMU coach Dan Enos said. "It was ugly at times, but that's college football week to week. I have to give Miami a lot of credit. Their coaching staff did a great job. The guys played extremely hard. I thought their quarterback was very, very good. He made a lot of good plays for them."
Two key Chippewa players on the day were sophomore quarterback Cooper Rush and senior wideout Titus Davis. Rush completed 16 of 24 for 218 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. All three touchdowns went to Davis, who totaled eight receptions for 102 yards.
The game-winning score turned out to be a 9-yard Rush-to-Davis toss with 10:03 remaining in the final stanza.
Miami led just once in the game, 10-7 midway through the second period. However, after falling behind 13-10, Miami answered every Chippewa score until Rush and Davis hooked up on their final scoring strike. Even then, Miami made it inside the CMU two-yard line before the game’s final play.
Hendrix, the Notre Dame transfer who opted to follow new head coach Chuck Martin from ND to Miami, had another big day as he closes in on the end of his collegiate career. He completed 24 of 41 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns. It was the most yards by an opposing quarterback against CMU this season.
Miami did manage to register 102 yards rushing, including 80 on 11 carries by running back Dawan Scott. The senior wide receiver was moved to running back earlier this year. When not injured, he has given the RedHawks’ running game a bit of a boost.
Central Michigan, meanwhile, displayed a very healthy running attack to balance its offense against MU. Most of its 209 yards on the ground came in the second half as the Chippewas unleashed freshman Devon Spalding against a RedHawks defense that lost two of its top defenders for the season several weeks ago. Spalding totaled 147 yards on 22 carries. His two touchdowns included a 51-yard scamper.
"He's very explosive. He kind of piggybacked off of (the Eastern) week," Enos said. "Devon's got another gear. I think he's the fastest back we have and he has good size. I think he has a great future."
Both offenses sputtered to open the contest, but Rush hit Davis on a 6-yard pass at 3:53 of the first quarter to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.
Junior Kaleb Patterson, who had missed his first field goal try, got MU on the board with a 26-yarder at 11:12 of the second quarter.
When CMU was forced to punt on the following possession, David Frazier returned the boot 31 yards to the 50 yard line. Hendrix then found tight end Alex Welch for 22 yards before tossing a 28-yarder to Frazier for a TD on the next play. With Patterson’s PAT, Miami had its only lead of the game, 10-7.
Central responded with an 11-play, 78-yard drive. Once again, it was a Rush-to-Davis connection for six yards and six points. The PAT kick, however, failed. Patterson’s second field goal – this one from 41-yards with five seconds left in the period sent the two teams to their locker rooms tied at 13-13.
The Chippewas went back out front, 20-13, on their second possession of the third quarter. Spaulding’s two-yard run at 6:44 finished a 10-play, 69-yard trip.
Miami once again got a boost from special teams when Fred McRae returned the kickoff 47 yards. Hendrix completed four passes in five MU plays on the way to a tying score. Murphy’s nine-yard reception finished the drive at 4:18.
Central Michigan followed with an even quicker score of its own. Three-plays into its next drive, Spaulding bounced his run out to the left and outraced defenders to the end zone for a 51-yard score. CMU led 27-20.
MU seemed to be in trouble on its next drive when it drew a holding penalty. Scott got part of it back with a 9-yard run, but it was still third-and-11 when Hendrix scrambled trouble and found Rokeem Williams for a big 22-yard gain. The sophomore receiver paced MU receivers with seven catches for 121 yards. It was his third game with more than 100 yards and fifth with at least 97 receiving yards.
Jared Murphy went untouched around the left side on a Jet Sweep to score from 10 yards out for Miami’s last score.
Central broke the 27-all tie on its next possessi0on with Davis’ final touchdown catch at 10:03. Neither team scored the rest of the way.
An interception by Quinten Rollins stopped one CMU drive, but a fumble by Frazier was recovered by linebacker Justin Cherocci to end Miami’s subsequent possession.
Cherocci also played an important part in the final sequence of plays at game’s end. Hendrix had guided Miami to a first-and-goal at the one. CMU decided to go with a blitz and Cherocci came through the A-gap unblocked to sack Hendrix back at the nine with 10-seconds left, potentially changing Miami’s play options.
“"It was a great call by our defensive staff at that time. That, to me, was the big play of the game,” Cherocci said.
The RedHawks finished with 471 yards to 427 for CMU. Miami also led in first downs, 28-23.
Central, which had two turnovers to MU’s one, did hold a slight time of possession edge, 30:40-29:20.
Both teams head into their final regular season date with big matchups. Central Michigan (7-4, 5-2 MAC) hosts Western Michigan (7-3, 5-1 MAC) Saturday (1 p.m. ET).
Miami, which went 10 weeks without a break, now has its second mini-break in as many games. The RedHawks (2-9, 2-5 MAC) host rival Ohio in a Battle of the Bricks matchup Tuesday, Nov. 25 (7 p.m. ET).