Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com/MRO Edit
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Decked out in its ice-look uniforms, the Central Michigan football team remained cool when things got hot Tuesday night at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
The Chippewa defense stood tall when it absolutely had to, stopping an Ohio scoring threat with under a minute to play as CMU held off the Bobcats, 27-20, on Senior Night.
CMU broke a three-game losing streak while improving to to 6-5 and ended Ohio’s three-game winning skein. The sixth victory made the Chippewas bowl eligible for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons. CMU is 3-4 in the MAC. Ohio (7-4, 5-2 MAC) dropped into a tie with Miami atop the MAC East, although the Bobcats hold a tie-breaking win over MU from earlier this year. Both teams have one contest remaining. OU hosts Akron, while Miami entertains Ball State – both games being played on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
"It was a hard-fought game on . . .
"I'm just really, really happy for our seniors on our football team. It's great to be bowl eligible, but like I told them in the locker room, they're not bowl guaranteed. We've got one more game left on the road next week (at Eastern Michigan). It'll be an important game against a team that's playing really well.
The Chippewas led 17-0 late in the first half, but Ohio came back to forge a 20-20 tie early in the fourth quarter.
CMU quarterback Cooper Rush tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Conklin, who made a spectacular falling one-handed grab in the end zone with just under six minutes remaining to put CMU ahead for good.
The play came on third-and-goal, and it was CMU's second third-down conversion in the eight-play, 43-yard drive.
"The (defensive back) played it pretty well, actually, but he made an unbelievable catch," Rush said.
CMU recovered a fumble on Ohio's next possession, taking over near midfield with 3 minutes, 23 seconds remaining. The Chippewas gave it back to the Bobcats a minute later with a fumble of their own at midfield. It was CMU's lone turnover of the game.
The Bobcats drove to the CMU 7-yard line where, on third-and-5, defensive end Joe Ostman sacked Ohio quarterback Quinton Maxwell.
"It's a credit to our defense though for getting them into that situation, third-and-long, with their backs against the wall," Ostman said. "I knew it was going to be pass because it was third-and-long. I saw the snap count, and I just got off the ball as quick as I could."
On fourth down, Sean Bunting intercepted Maxwell in the end zone with 34 seconds left.
"It was a little more exciting than it needed to be, turning the ball over at midfield," Bonamego said. "Our defense held strong."
Rush completed 25 of 32 pass attempts for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked just once by the Bobcats, who entered the game with a MAC-best 36 sacks and sported the No. 1 rushing defense in the league.
"I had really good pass protection," Rush said. "I was able to get into a rhythm of stepping up and throwing with a clean pocket. Hats off to those guys (up front) for accepting a huge challenge against one of the top defensive lines in the country."
The Chippewas built a 17-0 lead late in the first half on a 40-yard Brian Eavey field goal, a Jahray Hayes 1-yard TD run, and a Rush-to-Conklin 13-yard TD pass.
Ohio cut it to 17-3 with a 34-yard Louis Zervos field goal with 2 seconds left in the half.
The Bobcats surged in the second half, getting a 13-yard Maxwell-to-Papi White TD pass, a 1-yard TD run by Dorian Brown, and another 34-yard Zervos field goal. Eavey booted a 33-yard field goal and the score was tied at 20 early in the fourth.
The Chippewas' game-winning drive started at Ohio's 43. Eight plays later, they had the lead - for good - and Conklin had a catch that will surely stand as one of the highlight-reel plays of the college football season.
"My phone is blowing up right now," Conklin said in the postgame press conference, speculating that the play might lead the highlight shows "unless LeBron makes some kind of play."