Thomas Rawls was a smash in his Central Michigan debut, rushing for 123 yards and a touchdown, and the Chippewa defense made four interceptions Thursday as CMU topped Football Championship Subdivision member Chattanooga, 20-16, in the season-opening football game at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
“We are very fortunate we came out of there with a win. I think it was a great effort on the part our team,” said Dan Enos, who improved to 4-1 in season openers as CMU coach. “I give their coach and staff from Chattanooga a lot of credit. They’re a well-coached and disciplined football team.”
“Going into the second half, we just kept our cool,” said CMU defensive tackle Leterrius Walton. “There was no ‘rah-rah’ in the locker room. We knew we just had to focus, go through a little adversity. Coming out of the second half, we knew what to do.”
CMU scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter – Rawls on a 6-yard run and Courtney Williams on a 26-yard pass from Rush – to surge ahead.
While the Chippewa offense struggled to find its rhythm throughout most of the first half, the defense was good – despite surrendering a 70-yard TD pass play -- and got better throughout the evening.
Tony Annese made two interceptions, his second of which sealed the game with just over a minute remaining. Blake Serpa and Kevin King had one each. Three of those picks came in the second half.
The interceptions, Annese said, “had a lot to do with the defensive line getting after the quarterback. They helped me out. First one was a tipped pass from the D-line. and I wouldn’t have gotten a pick if it weren’t for them.”
Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman, the preseason Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year and on the Walter Payton Award Watch List, completed 13-of-24 pass attempts for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 40 yards on 13 carries.
The Mocs, 8-4 a year ago and the reigning Southern Conference champions, are ranked 14th in FCS. They finished with 256 yards, only 29 of which came in the second half. Eleven of Chattanooga’s 14 first downs came before halftime.
“I thought our defense was outstanding and gave us a chance,” Enos said. “The defensive line was very disruptive in getting our hands on balls and getting the quarterback to throw sooner than he wanted to, and when you do that you get turnovers. I give a lot of credit to our defensive staff. That’s a very difficult offense to defend when you don’t see it every day.”
Rush, who completed just one of his first seven passes, finished 15-for-26 for 173 yards. The Chippewas did not commit a turnover, but their kicking game left plenty to be desired. Placekicker Ron Coluzzi missed a 43-yard field goal and an extra point and he had a field goal attempt blocked.
“We have to play better at quarterback,” Enos said. “We have to execute better offensively and our kicking game was really atrocious in the second half as well.
“We took a 20-16 game that should have been a 27- or 30-16 game and everyone could have relaxed more in the last five minutes of the game. We turned it into the nail-biter.
“The good Lord has a way of putting you through things and it makes you tougher and stronger. That’s what I told (the players); we probably had to go through that to make us tougher and stronger for something else that may come down the road.”
-- Courtesy CMU Athletics