Ypsilanti – Brogan Roback wanted nothing more than to lead another comeback in the final minutes to make sure Eastern Michigan would feel what it was like to have its first winning season in decades.
And, Roback made it happen, rallying the Eagles (7-5, 4-4) back from a 21-20 deficit by leading them on a 72-yard drive, capped off with a 24-yard touchdown pass on a fade route to Sergio Bailey with 21 seconds left in a 26-21 win over Central Michigan (6-6, 3-5) Tuesday night at Rynearson Stadium.
Sure, Roback’s TD pass was huge, but it wasn’t the biggest play of the game. No, that came on a fourth-and-6 play at the Central 33 when Eastern third-year coach Chris Creighton felt a 50-yard field goal was out of the question.
Instead, Roback found Dieuly Aristilde for nine yards to set up the score. And, it was Aristilde who got the Eagles into Central territory in the first place by hauling in a pass for a 30-yard gain to the Chippewas 37.
The Eagles are 7-5, assuring themselves their first winning season since 1995 and now a bowl game awaits. They will find out where they will play Dec. 4.
“(An) unbelievable feeling,” said Roback, a four-star recruit coming out of the Toledo area, who completed 26-of-38 passes for 355 yards and two TDs. “This is something you dream about growing up. We thrive under these kind of times. If we have the ball in our hands, we have a lot of confidence that we can get the job done. I’m so happy for the program, the staff, university, everyone that’s involved.”
Roback talked of the key fourth down play, saying: “Dieuly ran a great route. They gave us a look that we were familiar with, I just tried to get the ball anywhere near him and I knew he’d come down with it and he made a great catch and we got the first down.”
And, of the TD pass?
“I just wanted to take that shot and I had confidence in my guys and the offensive line protected out of their mind so it was unbelievable,” said Roback, a redshirt junior.
It was the second time in the last three games Roback led a game-winning drive, leading the Eagles on an 86-yard drive in 1 minute, 3 seconds to turn a 41-40 deficit into a 48-41 lead and eventual win over Ball State with 32 seconds left on Election Night, completing 37-of-71 for a career-high 468 yards and four TDs.
The senior class was ecstatic to go out with a winning season, especially since the Eagles were 1-11 last season.
“It’s a great feeling right now, just to have all these guys, you know with us being seniors to go out and lead these boys in the right direction,” senior cornerback DaQuan Pace said. “It feels great.
“We always have faith in our offense. Brogan always goes down and does a great job. He made his right reads and we came out on top. That’s Eastern Michigan football right now.”
The Eagles came back from a 21-0 deficit to defeat Ball State, then failed to protect a 21-0 lead last week in an overtime loss to Northern Illinois at Rynearson.
On Tuesday, the Eagles took a 20-7 lead into the fourth quarter before Central running back Devon Spalding scored on a 5-yard run to pull the Chippewas within 20-14, then his 41-yard TD run gave the Chips their lone lead at 21-20 with 2:34 left.
“It was like ‘Let’s go,’” Roback said. “We’ve been in those situations before and we like those situations. It might be kind of weird to hear, but we do. We thrive in those moments. Offensively, we’re very senior-led up front and we have a calm, cool confidence about us and we know we can get the job done as long as we stick to what we need to do. We had 23 first downs and I think the 23rd first down was the biggest one obviously. It’s a fun situation to be in because that’s when the competitors come out.”
Creighton showed he was there to win and gambled early on a fourth and one play at midfield on the Eagles’ first drive. Sophomore running back Blake Banham made sure his coach looked good, breaking away for a 50-yard TD run.
“Sometimes you just go with your gut,” Creighton said. “We knew we had a good short yardage play. We didn’t know that Blake would be Superman on that play, which he absolutely did. Early like that it’s not always wise to take a risk of putting your defense in a situation where you got a really short field. We weren’t going to be reckless, but we were coming to win this football game tonight.”
It was next man in for Banham who finished with 120 yards on 18 carries. He got the starting nod with Ian Eriksen out with an injury, just like Eriksen filled in for Shaq Vann who suffered a season-ending injury in a Game 2 loss at Missouri.
"It was just a fun, fun locker room right now and everybody who has been a part of this school, who has been a part of this program for years, decades, I hope everybody takes great joy and pride in what happened tonight," Creighton said. "I wish everybody who has been a part of Eastern Michigan football and Eastern Michigan could have felt and seen and experienced that locker room. It was awesome.
“When a bunch of guys set out a goal, and we’re not done with that yet, but they’ve set out a goal to go to a bowl game and we talked about being bowl eligible and how that wasn’t a guarantee. We just wanted to finish and not limp into something.
“Winning two out of the last three, doing it on Senior Night and doing it some of the ways where we had to grow and learn as a team. I just couldn’t be more proud of our guys. They’re the real deal. They are first class. They stuck together and things haven’t been easy. I love our football team.”
Now, it’s on to the bowl season for the Eagles, something Eastern hasn’t participated in since a 30-27 California Bowl win over San Jose State in 1987 ... a generation ago.