Fredericks’ touchdown spoiled what would have been a storybook win for John Bonamego, a former Chippewa walk-on coaching just his third game as CMU’s head coach. Syracuse is 3-0, while CMU falls to 1-2 (0-0 MAC) on the campaign.
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“They’re upset,” Bonamego said of his players. “They lost the game, and that’s the way I want them to be. I don’t ever want them to be satisfied with a loss. We’ll never be satisfied with a loss. I’m proud of the effort, but I’m not happy with the result. There were a lot of things there that were in our control.”
Both Rush and McCord turned in career-best numbers as the Chippewas rolled up 520 yards in total offense and gained 30 first downs.
Rush completed 37 of his 51 pass attempts for 430 yards and two touchdowns, while McCord, a senior tight end, caught 10 passes for 147 yards.
McCord’s receptions and yards were both career highs, while Rush’s attempts and completions were career high-water marks. The 430 yards were the second-most the junior has ever thrown for, behind only the 493 he amassed last season in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
“Those two have a good chemistry,” Bonamego said. “Ben’s a guy who’s difficult to defend. He’s a mismatch for a lot of people. You put a (defensive back) on him, it had better be a big one because he’s a big, physical guy. You put a linebacker on him, he’d better be able to run pretty good. I thought he played an excellent game.”
The game turned when Syracuse freshman quarterback Eric Dungey was knocked out of the game on a hit to the head by CMU defensive end Mitch Stanitzek early in the second quarter.
The injury occurred on a 25-yard TD pass play from Dungey to Dontae Strickland that gave Syracuse a 17-3 lead. The Chippewas were penalized on the play and Stanitzek was ejected.
“I think the biggest difference obviously is their quarterback not playing,” Bonamego said. “They lose their starter and it makes a big difference in the outcome of the game. In a back and forth game like that there’s going to be shifts in momentum. I thought in the second half it was clearly in our favor.”
The Orange lead was still two TDs, 24-10, when the Chippewas came alive in the third quarter. Devon Spalding, who finished with a combined 185 yards in rushing and receiving, scored on a 2-yard run with under 5 minutes to play in the third.
While the CMU defense blanked the Orange in the third and fourth quarters, the Chippewa offense moved efficiently. But they twice turned the ball over in the fourth quarter. The first on a Rush fumble with CMU at the Syracuse 15, the second on an interception with the Chippewas at the Orange 35.
Still, CMU managed to tie it in regulation, taking the ball with just 2:17 left at its own 10-yard line and marching 90 yards for the game-tying score. Rush found McCord for a first down with the Chippewas facing fourth-and-4 at the Syracuse 26, and the dramatic TD pass to McCord came on third-and-17.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound McCord outjumped a pack of Syracuse defenders in the end zone and came down with the ball. Brian Eavey’s extra point tied it and sent it to OT.
“I said a prayer because (on the play) before that I gave up a sack on Coop,” McCord said. “I knew I had to make a play. I raised my hand and he looked and I came down with it.”
The Chippewas had the ball first in the extra session, and settled for a 20-yard Eavey field goal for a 27-24 lead. CMU had a third down at the Orange 1-yard line, but Spalding was thrown for a 2-yard loss.
Bonamego said he considered going for the touchdown on fourth down from the 3.
“It’s something that’s in the back of your mind, but the way our defense was playing, particularly in the second half, I thought we would get a stop and trade field goals,” he said. “The bad part of it is if you don’t get (the touchdown), then you’re turning the ball over to them (with the game tied) and they’re already in field goal range, easy field goal range, at the 25.”
The big play for the Orange when they got the ball in OT came when they faced a third-and-5 at the Chippewa 20. Zack Mahoney, who shared relief duties at quarterback with Austin Wilson, hit Kendall Moore for a first down at the 7. Two plays later, Fredericks dove for the pylon and the winning score.
“I’m just proud of our team’s effort,” Bonamego said. “They never thought they were out of it, they were confident coming into the locker room (at halftime) being down two scores and I’m just really proud of the way they competed. They just hung in there, hung together, and kept chipping away.”