AKRON, OHIO – Junior quarterback Cooper Rush engineered touchdown drives of 69 and 75 yards in leading the Central Michigan Chippewas to a 14-6 victory over the Akron Zips in a battle of defenses Saturday afternoon at InfoCision Stadium.
Central Michigan (5-4, 4-1 MAC) picked up it's third consecutive victory, second straight on the road, and fourth in the last five games to stay just one-half game behind Toledo and Western Michigan in the MAC Western Division. In addition, Central defeated UA for the sixth consecutive time and 10th in the last 11 games.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game.” CMU had coach John Bonamego said. “We didn’t move the ball well against Akron, but (in) the two other phases (defense and special teams, I thought we were decisive.”
Akron (3-5, 1-3 MAC) dropped its second straight contest and third in the last four games.
“We were right there.” Zips head coach Terry Bowden said. “We needed just one more play, and that is what they did to beat us. They made one more play.”
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The Zips had a chance to take the lead on their second possession of the game. Sophomore quarterback Thomas Woodson used the short passing game, throwing underneath the CMU coverage, and senior Conor Hundley also contributed as Akron moved from its own six to the Chippewas 12.
On third down, the 12th play of the drive, Woodson was hit from behind by LB Blake Serpa, causing a fumble. The ball rolled out of bounds at the 31 yard line, still in the Zips possession. Senior PK Robert Stein came on for a 48-yard field goal attempt which was wide to the right.
It was the first of two costly kicks that Stein would miss on the afternoon.
Following the missed field goal, Central Michigan capitalizes by going 69 yards in nine plays for its first touchdown. The big play was a 37-yard completion to sophomore WR Mark Chapman all alone at the left sideline. After the drive reached the UA two, Rush hit junior FB Joe Bacci on a swing pass into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
The Zips responded swiftly to the Chippewas score with one of their own.
From their own 24, Akron needed just four plays to reach the Chippewas end zone. Woodson continued to use the short passing game until UA reached the Zips 43. He then went for the big play and found sophomore WR Jerome Lane on a simple go route. Lane grabbed the ball in stride and took it down the right sideline for the score to make it 7-6. The joy of the touchdown was quickly tempered when Stein missed the extra point.
For Lane, his only catch of the day was his fifth touchdown reception of the season. Woodson would finish the afternoon going 22-of-36 for 252 yards and the score to Lane.
The rest of the period was a battle of defenses and field position with CMU holding its one-point margin going into halftime.
In their last game at Bowling Green, the Zips surrendered 59 points and 532 yards of total offense to the Falcons. In the first half against CMU, Akron held the Chippewas to just 72 total yards (only one coming on the ground). Add to that a pair of sacks -- one each by senior LB Jatavis Brown and Rodney Coe.
Rush was held to 9-of-14 passing for 71 yards, along with the touchdown to Bacci. However, he would come out to start the third quarter with vengeance.
CMU got the ball to begin the period. Starting from its own 25, Rush used seven plays to reach paydirt. On second down from the UA 14, he found junior WR Anthony Rice on the left side of the end zone for the touchdown, extending the Chippewas' lead to 14-6.
Rice, the son of former Notre Dame All-American QB Tony Rice, led all receivers in the game with nine catches for 105 yards and the score while Rush finished the afternoon going 23-of-37 for 226 yards.
The visitors had a chance to really put the game away midway in the third quarter as they moved from their own 20 to the Zips 43. However, Rush was ithen ntercepted by redshirt freshman CB Jordan George.
In fact, after the George interception, CMU did not cross midfield for the remainder of the game, while UA could only get as far as the Chippewas 41. Central outgained the Zips in the second half 193-106, the margin mostly coming on CMU's 75-yard scoring drive at the start of the third quarter.
It was the fourth time this season that UA held an opponent under 300 yards.
Among the defensive stars, Serpa stood out for the Chippewas. He had six total tackles in the game (all solo), along with a pair of sacks for 16 yards , four tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. One of the fumbles came in the first quarter, pushing the Zips back 18 yards and setting up the subsequent missed field goal.
After registering six total sacks in the first eight games, CMU had four against the Zips. In addition, Central held a third straight opponent to under 300 yards in total offense. It was the fourth time in 2015. UA had just 276 yards
“I thought it was a great effort.” Bonamego said. “In the first half, I think they had like two yards rushing, so I thought overall defensively it was a great game.”
The UA defense, meanwhile, rebounded from its total beat down at BGSU to hold the high powered Chippewas offense to just 265 yards -- the fourth time this season Akron has kept an opponent under 300 yards. Individually, Coe stood out with five tackles (four solo) and two sacks of Rush. Overall, the defense produced eight tackles for losses, five pass breakups, and the interception by George (the first of his career).
“You have to give credit to our players.” Bowden said. “They played so hard and played for 60 minutes. It is very disappointing.”
UA starts a two-game road trip next Saturday as it heads to Foxboro, Massachusetts next Saturday to face the Minutemen of Massachusetts. CMU does not play until Tuesday November 10th when Toledo comes to Kelly Shorts Stadium.