Western Michigan is riding a four-game winning streak while Eastern Michigan’s losing streak reached four games, resulting from the Broncos’ 27-24 win over the Eagles on homecoming Saturday afternoon at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.
WMU sophomore defensive tackle Ralph Holley (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s) had a big game, getting in on six tackles, including two sacks while also forcing a fumble.
Holley was sensational, especially in the first half when he stopped quarterback Tyler Wiegers for no gain on a fourth-and-one play at the WMU 23 with the game tied at 7.
On EMU’s next series, Holley sacked Wiegers, forcing him to fumble and WMU’s A.J. Thomas recovered at the Eagles’ 38, setting up Jamauri Bogan’s 1-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead with 1:19 left in the half.
“He’s really coming into his own,” WMU head coach Tim Lester said of Holley. “He has heavy hands and Coach Espo (Lou Esposito), his D-line coach, has really been working with him because when he shoots his hands you can see him puncture the line of scrimmage, and he’s having a great year.
“I truly believe this is the first time where back-to-back weeks he played great games. He was our player of the game last week (against Miami), so he’s starting to play consistently. He’s getting to the quarterback and he’s playing on their side of the line of scrimmage so he’s been playing huge for us.”
The Eagles had their chances, advancing inside WMU territory the first five times they had the ball, but scoring just seven points.
WMU will be big favorites heading into Saturday’s game at Bowling Green (1-5, 0-2 West). The Broncos have a balanced attack, led by junior quarterback Jon Wassink, who ranks 10th nationally with 1,658 yards. He's thrown 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has only been sacked four times. They average 196 rushing yards, led by junior LeVante Bellamy (79 carries, 531 yards, 6.7 average).
Wassink has multiple weapons to work with, including junior D’Wayne Eskridge who grabbed a 49-yard reception to set up WMU’s third TD and true freshman Jayden Reed who had two big third-down receptions, leading to touchdowns.
Bowling Green has struggled against the run, ranking last in the MAC, allowing an average of 332 yards a game, 6.6 yards a carry.
One area Lester feels the Broncos have to do a better job on is treasuring the football after turning it over twice in each of the last two games.
While the Broncos will be hitting the road, EMU (2-4, 0-3) will be looking to get its first conference win, hosting defending MAC champion Toledo (3-2, 1-0).
The Eagles lost at Toledo 20-15 last season, which was one of 10 losses by a touchdown or less in the last 16 games, including four this season.
After kicking a 24-yard field goal on the game’s final play for the difference in a 20-19 win over Purdue Sept. 8, freshman Chad Ryland has missed critical kicks the past two weeks.
EMU forced a Northern Illinois fumble in the second overtime Sept. 29, but Ryland missed a 38-yard field goal that would have won the game, leading to a 26-23 loss.
Then, the Eagles were driving after the Broncos took a 27-17 lead, moving 84 yards on 16 plays, but Ryland missed a 32-yard field goal. They did score a TD with 20 seconds left, but it was too little, too late because of the missed field goal.
“I think we played hard, played to the end,” EMU coach Chris Creighton said. “Defensively, we limited them to two explosive plays and we ran the ball (178 rushing yards) better than we had prior and so there were some definite positives, but the issue for us was missed opportunities, not because any of us didn’t want to take advantage of those but reality of it is we didn’t (take advantage). We had the ball five times in their side of the 50 on our first five possessions, but only came away with seven points.”
Junior Mike Glass III had the bulk of the playing time at quarterback for the Eagles, rushing for 101 yards and a TD and completing 15-of-24 passes for 155 yards and a TD.
Chips off to worst start since 2000
Central Michigan fourth-year head coach John Bonamego had reason to be unhappy, watching his team miss tackle after tackle while turning the ball over four times in a 34-24 loss to MAC-East leading Buffalo (5-1, 2-0).
CMU is 1-5 (0-2 MAC) and off to its worst start since 2000.
The Chippewas gave up 295 rushing yards and quarterback Tommy Lazzaro, who took the starting job away from Tony Poljan a few weeks ago, struggled, completing just 9-of-23 for 117 yards and a TD with four interceptions.
Buffalo turned two of Lazzaro’s second-half interceptions into 10 points to turn a 24-17 lead into a 34-17 cushion. Poljan came in and threw a TD pass with just over one minute left in the game.
“We had players in position, but were not able to finish tackles,” Bonamego said. “I think Buffalo had somewhere around 300 yards on the ground and we had probably 150 of those by our tally come after contact.
“We turned the ball over four times and that leads to getting beat, especially against a quality opponent. I was probably most disappointed in the third quarter since we closed the lead to seven points, then turn around and give up a 70-yard run so we have a lot of work to do. Our guys are determined, though. They believe we’re a good football team. We just have to coach better, play better, continue to stay positive.”
The Chips are probably happy to have Ball State (2-4, 1-1) next up in the middle game of a three-game homestand with WMU set to come into Kelly/Shorts Stadium Oct. 20.
CMU has won three straight in the series with Ball State, 56-9 last season.