Western Michigan pulled out a 40-39 win at Miami (Ohio) for its third straight victory, setting up its noon battle Saturday with Eastern Michigan on Saturday at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.
The Broncos (3-2, 1-0) came back from a 27-14 halftime deficit, winning the game on Jon Wassink’s two-yard touchdown run with three minutes left, coming just one play after Wassink scrambled for 14 yards on a fourth-and-10 play.
Wassink had another strong performance, completing 27-of-42 for 439 yards and five TDs, four scoring tosses to freshman Jayden Reed and another to former Michigan receiver Drake Harris, his first career TD reception.
Reed had seven receptions for 137 yards; D’Wayne Eskridge, seven receptions for 141 yards; and Harris, six catches for 60 yards, including an 18-yard grab on the 73-yard winning drive.
WMU has bounced back from an 0-2 start, which included a 55-42 loss to a one-loss Syracuse team, and No. 15 Michigan (49-3).
Wassink, a redshirt junior, ranks 11th nationally in passing yards (1,423, 13 TDs, three interceptions), giving the Broncos a balanced attack, 489.2 total yards, including 204.6 on the ground.
Still, with Eskridge and Reed showing big-play ability, it is Harris that gives Wassink yet another option for success.
“It changes everything, like a monkey off your back,” WMU second-year head coach Tim Lester of Harris’ first career TD grab. “He made a bunch of contested catches. He caught that one (3-yard TD grab at end of third quarter) and then after that he was like a vacuum, catching everything. We had a lot of receivers make big-time catches. Jon kept putting them in position to make plays, and they did.”
Reed was named MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week for his four-TD game that matched a WMU school record which was held by former NFL player Greg Jennings in 2005. That came in a 5OT loss to Ball State.
Next up is the Eagles (2-3, 0-2), who have dropped their last two games in overtime, including a 26-23 (3OT) loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday night in Ypsilanti.
The Broncos have won four straight against EMU, including an OT win in Ypsilanti last year.
“They’ve had one of the hardest schedules in our league and they’ve battled every team, Lester said. "San Diego (State) is a great team, Northern (Illinois) is a great team, Buffalo’s a great team. They are a physical bunch. I think on defense they are really exceptional, so it’s going to be unbelievable test for us as the games get tighter and tighter.”
Eagles let another one get away
No doubt, Saturday’s game at WMU is a big one, especially since the Eagles have dropped three straight close games and hope to avoid an 0-3 MAC start.
It seems like EMU’s 20-19 upset win at Purdue was a long time ago. The Eagles have dropped consecutive overtimes games, including their loss to Northern Illinois — their third straight OT loss in the rivalry with one of the MAC’s premier teams.
The Eagles had an excellent chance to pull the game out in the second OT against Northern Illinois, first forcing a fumble and just needing Chad Ryland to make a 38-yard field goal to send the fans home happy. Ryland, who made the game winner at Purdue on the game’s final play, missed it. He then kicked a 42-yarder in the third OT, but Northern Illinois scored a TD to win.
Despite another heartbreaking setback — ninth loss in their last 15 games by seven points or less — EMU fifth-year coach Chris Creighton is stressing to his players how competitive they are which was a far cry from the 2015 season (1-11, 0-8).
“Since the 2016 season we’ve been beaten one time, sure we lost some games, but we were beaten at Mizzou (Missouri), not a game that we were in all the way to the end,” Creighton said. “This week will be the halfway point of the regular season and so that’s 2 1/2 years of playing good football. We’re .500 over that time, 7-6, 5-7 and now we’re 2-3 so we’re a good football team and a solid football program.
“We had a breakthrough in 2016 from a bad football team to competitive, and we can play with anybody. If we play really well we can win, and if we don’t play well we’re not going to win. Our next breakthrough is to go from competitive to consistently playing winning football, and it’s my job to lead that charge. I believe in our program.”
Creighton had high praise for both defenses in Saturday’s game.
“It was the third year in a row they’ve beaten us in overtime, and I just knew that this year we would get them, but it didn't happen so give credit to them,” Creighton said. “Their defense is fantastic, and we were unable to muster much offense at all (247 total yards). I felt our defense played a heck of a game as well (allowed 383 total yards), played really over 100 snaps (97) and gave up by our calculation just one explosive (play) all day.”
And, on facing WMU?
“Their quarterback (Wassink) was very accurate at getting the ball to their weapons, and they have weapons all over the field, multiple guys catching the ball and making big plays at receiver and they have good speed there,” Creighton said. “Obviously, their running backs have been really good, and have been ever since I’ve been here my five years. It’s no different this year, and none of it works without the offensive line. They definitely have talent.”
Tyler Wiegers got the start at quarterback for EMU. He was subpar, completing 17-of-40 for 180 yards and a TD.
Chips back to MAC play
CMU (1-4, 0-1) returns to MAC play after its 31-20 loss at Michigan State.
The Chippewas battled back from a 31-3 deficit to make it respectable against the Spartans.
CMU will play host to Buffalo (4-1, 1-0) on homecoming Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant.
The Chippewas rank No. 6 nationally and tops in the MAC in passing defense, allowing just 149 yards a game.
CMU's defense will certainly be tested by 6-foot-7 quarterback Tyree Jackson (Muskegon Mona Shores) who has thrown for 1,204 yards and a MAC-high 16 TDs.
"It's a huge challenge," CMU coach John Bonamego said. "They are a very well-built team, especially up front. I think they have yet to give up a sack, so that's where it starts. Obviously, everything goes through the triggerman in Tyree Jackson, who I've been very, very impressed with watching him. He has an absolute cannon for an arm and has some very good targets to go to in (K.J.) Osborn and Anthony Johnson. They have guys who are vertical threats that can stretch the field and they are going to challenge you."
Osborn, who played his high school ball at Ypsilanti Lincoln and IMG Academy in Florida, has 23 receptions for 410 yards and six TDs.