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MAC notebook: Lester encouraged by Broncos’ progress

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Tim Lester will be making his Mid-American Conference head coaching debut for Western Michigan when the Broncos play host to Ball State Saturday night.

The Broncos (2-2) will enter the game with a two-game winning streak after opening the season with losses at Southern Cal and Michigan State. They have a chance to get off to a great start in MAC play with games against Ball State (2-2), then at Buffalo (2-2) Oct. 7 and a Homecoming game Oct. 14 against Akron (1-3) before heading into the meat of their schedule.

Lester is encouraged with the Broncos after his first month in the books. They are coming off a dominating 49-14 home win over FCS Wagner, leading 21-0 at halftime and 49-7 after three quarters, picking up 366 yards on the ground and having red-shirt sophomore quarterback Jon Wassink gaining experience with every game.

Wassink connected on 11-of-12 for 165 yards and three TDs with Jamauri Bogan (132 yards, TD) and Jarvion Franklin (111 yards, two TDs) each running for more than 100 yards.

“It’s simply a process, but I definitely see things going in the right direction,” said Lester of Western’s progress in his first year after the Broncos won the MAC championship last season with P.J. Fleck, who is now head coach at Minnesota. “The offensive line, some of our running plays and the verbage, they’re getting more comfortable, playing a little bit faster, and Jon Wassink is playing with a little bit more confidence.

“Our outside run game made huge strides last week and you have to be able to do both, and I really feel like our outside zone play last week in practice started to look like a real life outside zone play and it showed this weekend which is going to make those D linemen run sideways and their going to run from sideline to sideline and it just sets up your inside zone play.”

And, Wassink is developing a go-to receiver in sophomore Keishawn Watson who had six receptions and two TDs in the win over Wagner.

Ball State will be a tough challenge for the Broncos, showing how competitive it is against a strong Western Kentucky team Saturday. Ball State held a 21-20 lead before Western Kentucky scored a pair of TDs in the final 1:38 to pull out a 33-21 victory.

Lester knows the Broncos’ offensive line will be tested by senior defensive end Anthony Winbush who has 71/2sacks.

Eagles lose heartbreaker

Eastern Michigan failed in its attempt to go 3-0 for the first time since 1989 when it lost at home to Ohio in double-overtime, 27-20 in 90-degree heat.

And, it looked like the heat was getting to EMU senior quarterback Brogan Roback who made a terrible mistake in the final minute of the first half, throwing from deep in his own territory which turned into a 46-yard TD interception return by Bradd Ellis with 10 seconds left for a 10-6 Ball State halftime.

Roback did engineer a fourth-quarter TD drive of 69 yards to pull even at 13 with 10:54 left on Ian Eriksen’s 1-yard run to force overtime, then found Sergio Bailey on the first play of OT for a 25-yard TD and a 20-13 lead, but Ohio’s Nathan Rourke answered with a TD pass in the first OT, then threw another in the second for the difference.

“We wanted that one badly and I just feel like they made a few more plays than we did at the end,” said Eastern coach Chris Creighton who also gambled during a fourth-and-5 at the Ohio 30 with an incompletion in the third quarter.

Roback completed 28-of-47 for 271 yards and a TD, finding 12 different receivers, but the Eagles never got their ground game going (45 yards, 27 attempts).

No doubt, the Eagles have another great opportunity awaiting them Saturday when they travel to Lexington to face Kentucky. They have never beaten an SEC school and recently ended an 0-for-38 slide against Big Ten teams with a 16-13 win at Rutgers earlier this month.

Kentucky will be in a nasty mood after giving up a 27-14 fourth-quarter lead in a 28-27 loss to Florida Saturday to fall to 3-1, preventing it from a top-25 ranking.

“We lose in double-overtime and they lost on a late comeback and it’s how do you respond?” Creighton said. “It’s always about how you respond. Do we learn from it and flush it and then get excited about another opportunity this week and about getting better or do you let a loss beat you twice and it absolutely can’t happen that way. I love our team and I believe we’re going to get better from it.”

And, about Kentucky?

“They have really good players at every position. They’re fast, physical and playing with an extreme amount of confidence. They have backs that are electric with the ball and they’ve become famous for their wildcat.”

Chippewas fall short

Central Michigan (2-2) lost its second straight game, losing its MAC opener at Kelly/Shorts Stadium to Miami, 31-14.

Miami scored TDs on four of its first six drives to take a 28-7 lead and was never threatened.

“It was a disappointing loss for us and I would summarize the game as one of missed opportunities,” Central coach John Bonamego said.

“They had a good plan against us and they executed consistently throughout the game and didn’t turn the ball over and that’s the reason they won.

“We had our opportunities. We had an interception that was called back by a penalty which was the right call.

“Amari Coleman, one of our captains and an all-conference player, probably had the play of the decade for CMU and he returns a missed field goal 109 and two-thirds yard for a score and got some help from some great blocking, but we were called for leveraging and again it was the correct call and it’s just unfortunate to have plays like that taken back.”

CMU senior quarterback Shane Morris completed 15-of-33 for 195 yards and a TD, but also threw two interceptions.

The Chippewas also failed to score on two red zone opportunities with one ending with an interception and another threat by a fourth down incompletion.

Now, CMU has to focus on a game at Boston College (1-3).