MAC notes: Central takes aim at bowl while hosting Eastern

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Was it the biggest collapse or the greatest comeback in the Central Michigan-Western Michigan rivalry?

Well, it really doesn’t matter what it was, just that Central Michigan came back from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Western Michigan, 35-28, last Wednesday night in Kalamazoo.

And, now Central Michigan (5-4, 3-2) is one of the hottest teams in the Mid-American Conference while Western (5-4, 3-2) once promising season has quickly turned into mediocrity.

While the Chippewas host Eastern Michigan (3-6, 1-4) Wednesday night in an effort to win the Michigan MAC championship and become bowl eligible while winning for the fourth time in the last five games, Western will host Kent State (2-7, 1-4) for the opportunity to become bowl eligible.

Western has lost its last two home games — Akron (14-13, Oct. 15) and Central — and a loss to Kent State more than likely would have it staying home for the holidays, especially since they will head into their final games, road games at Northern Illinois (6-3, 4-1) and Toledo (8-1, 5-0) as double-figure underdogs.

So, how big was the collapse or comeback that ended Western’s three-game winning streak in the rivalry?

The Broncos dominated the first half, holding a 21-7 lead while outgaining Central, 269-82, including 241-30 on the ground. They had a chance to put the game away late in the third quarter when they had the ball at the Central 4 with a 28-14 lead, but fumbled the ball ... and ultimately the game away.

The Broncos had three of their four turnovers during the second half and Central took advantage with Jonathan Ward’s 29-yard TD run following a Jarvion Franklin fumble cutting the deficit to 28-21 with 9:13 remaining.

Central won the game on Shane Morris’ 77-yard TD pass to Corey Willis with 2:37 left. Morris had connected on just 11-of-29 for 166 yards before the long toss to Willis in his introduction to the rivalry since transferring from Michigan.

“It was a great win for us and I’m really excited for our program and excited for our seniors to get to enjoy a victory against Western in their careers,” pointed out Central third-year head coach John Bonamego. “For them to be able to go down to Kalamazoo and really grit out a win in the fourth quarter, and the way that game unfolded, it was special for everybody in our program, but especially our seniors.”

Franklin had another strong performance (228 yards, 26 carries, 2 TDs) aside from the fumble and is closing in his third 1,000-yard season, entering the Kent State game with 870 yards. He has a Western career record 54 TDs.

Western had just five bowl appearances before Franklin’s arrival and Franklin could well leave the Broncos with a program-record four bowl appearances if they defeat Kent State.

You can bet the Broncos will be hoping the rain stays away on Wednesday after losing in inclement weather to Akron and Central with true freshman quarterback Reece Goddard having a less than spectacular debut against the Chippewas (6-of-18, 42 yards, fumble, interception).

No doubt, Bonamego made a great move heading into the second half, loading the box to stop the run and make Goddard beat the Chippewas, which he couldn’t do.

“People try to define you on that (last) 10 minutes and that’s something that we’re focused on, finishing games and finishing practices and making sure we really focus on the fourth quarter,” said Western first-year head coach Tim Lester, who replaced P.J. Fleck after the Broncos’ MAC championship season. “I want to make sure they remember them putting themselves in a position on the four-yard line, about to go up three scores when we had the snap over the head that we couldn’t fall on. Hopefully, they can gain confidence in the things they were able to do to put us in a position to win, but we have to make a change and fix our fourth quarter.”

Eastern Michigan ended its six-game losing streak with a dominating 56-14 rout of Ball State and now must beat Central if it has any hopes of realizing its goal of winning a bowl game after earning its first winning season since 1995 last year, including a 26-21 win over the Chippewas in the regular-season finale before a Popeyes Bahamas bowl loss.

Eastern’s 42-point win over Ball State was its largest margin of victory in a MAC game since joining the conference in 1976. Brogan Roback threw for 263 yards and 3 TDs in the win which came after the Eagles suffered the six losses by a combined total of 23 points.

“The start of the game couldn’t have gone any better for us, but I think our guys were ready to go,” Eastern head coach Chris Creighton said. “We played better in all three phases and honestly it was nice to see our guys smiling after a game and enjoy some of the taste of victory.”

The Eagles scored TDs on five of their first six drives to take a 35-14 halftime lead.

“We were able to run the ball and able to throw it and when you’re able to do both of those, the play action game comes into effect a little more and it was just more of a well-rounded effort in terms of production from the offense and I think it’s something that we’re capable of.”

Next up is Central which showcases the MAC’s top pass defense.

“They played Ohio early on and they went to Ohio and beat them, took the ball away on defense and were scoring points in a really impressive victory,” said Creighton of Central’s 26-23 win at Ohio Oct. 7 when the Chippewas forced four turnovers. “Then, they beat Western in the monsoon and I love comebacks. For those guys to be down 28-14 in the fourth quarter and to come back and win was a phenomenal effort.

“They’ve beat quality people and obviously their quarterback play has been really good, at times phenomenal, and they’ve always prided themselves in their run game and so they’re spreading you out and throwing it, and then they’re the No. 1 pass defense in the league. We’re going to have to be at our best to win.”

The Eagles have a strong defense too.

“They are right up there at the top of the league in scoring defense and are 1 or 2 in total defense as well, and also up there in sacks,” noted Bonamego of the Eagles. “Watching those two defensive ends come off the edge is scary.”

Eastern’s defense is led by defensive ends Jeremiah Harris and Maxx Crosby who each own five sacks with Harris having a team-high 10 tackles for loss.

Kent State at Western Michigan

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo

TV/radio: CBSSN/1130 AM

Records: Kent State 2-7 (1-4 MAC); Western Michigan 5-4 (3-2)

Line: Western Michigan by 21.5

Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mount Pleasant

TV/radio: ESPNU/89.1 FM

Records: Eastern Michigan 3-6 (1-4 MAC); Central Michigan 5-4 (3-2)

Line: Eastern Michigan by 1.5