MAC football: CMU needs help from rival to win MAC West

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Central Michigan still has a shot at earning a share of the MAC West title, but the Chippewas will need a little help from their bitter rival Western Michigan to make it happen.

Central (7-4, 5-2), riding a four-game winning streak, will play host to Northern Illinois (8-3, 6-1) Friday at noon while the Broncos (6-5, 4-3) play at Toledo (9-2, 6-1), trying to prevent the Rockets from winning the West Division, something they did two years ago when the teams last played at the Glass Bowl.

Toledo is the lone team in charge of its own destiny, just needing a win to earn its right to play for the MAC championship Dec. 2 at Ford Field.

A Western win and Northern Illinois win would put the Huskies in the title game.

In a three-way tie, Toledo would still play in the MAC title game since the Rockets defeated both Northern Illinois and Central.

Western’s chance to own its own destiny ended when it failed to close out a 31-28 fourth-quarter lead in an eventual 35-31 loss at Northern Illinois Wednesday. It was the second time in the last three weeks the Broncos failed to hold a fourth-quarter lead, resulting in the difference between a mediocre season and a potentially special one.

Western is bowl eligible, but the Broncos still need another win to be guaranteed a bowl spot.

The Broncos defeated Toledo, 55-35, in Kalamazoo last season to complete a perfect regular season, going on to defeat Ohio in the MAC championship game before a loss to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.

They also defeated a nationally ranked Toledo team on the road in the 2015 finale, 35-30.

Western senior running back Jarvion Franklin rushed for 100-plus yards for the seventh time this season, running for 115 yards and a TD at Northern Illinois to give him 1,176 yards for the season and 4,815 for his career, closing in on joining 20 players who have topped the 5,000-yard career mark, including Royce Freeman of Oregon and Justin Jackson of Northwestern who joined the club earlier this season.

“Our success and failure is based off of him and he’s showed up week by week and we’re scoring a good amount of points,” said Western first-year coach Tim Lester of Franklin. “When we were healthy he was getting 15 carries a game; now he’s getting 25 carries a game because he’s really only one of the guys left (due to injuries to Jamauri Bogan, LeVante Bellamy, Davon Tucker).

“The snaps that he’s had throughout his career is unbelievable and he’s an unbelievable leader, unselfish. He’s a special guy and it’s great when those special guys are also special players and talents, and to have a year like he’s having I’m happy for him.”

Western true freshman quarterback Reece Goddard, making just his third start, completed 15 of 27 passes for 211 yards and two TDs, including a 13-yard TD toss to tight end Donnie Ernsberger late in the third quarter to give the Broncos a 28-21 lead.

The Rockets showed their firepower by scoring 42 second-half points in their 66-37 rivalry win over Bowling Green last Wednesday, with senior quarterback Logan Woodside throwing for 232 yards and two TDs and senior Terry Swanson running for 192 yards to give him 1,045 for the season.

“You want to have the senior class put a stamp on this program and leave the right way and we have a chance to do that Friday on Senior Day, and it’s a big moment for our seniors that have meant so much to this program,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said.

“Western’s a talented team, I mean they had 15, 16 starters, somewhere in that range returning from a team last year that won a ton of games so they have a very talented roster and it starts with the offensive line and certainly Jarvion Franklin is a tremendous back, one of the best if not the best in our conference, a guy who has really been carrying the load for them all year, really his entire career. They have some talented guys on the offensive front.

“They also have a tremendous returner in Darius Phillips, so they’re a very dangerous football team all the way around. Last year in our game up there we played relatively well offensively and scored some points and still got blown out, so our guys understand the caliber of football team we’re playing this Friday and know what’s at stake.”

The Chippewas will be trying to earn their first five-game winning streak since the completion of the 2009 season, also the last time they won the MAC championship. They have won three straight in the series with Northern Illinois, defeating the Huskies last year at Northern Illinois 34-28 in triple-overtime, 29-19 in ’15 at Mount Pleasant and 34-17 on the road in ’14.

Central senior quarterback Shane Morris, a transfer from Michigan, hit on 14 of 22 passes for 297 yards and two TDs in last week’s 42-23 rout of Kent State to guarantee the Chippewas will be playing in a bowl game.

Morris has thrown for 894 yards and 11 TDS with just one interception during the winning streak. Sophomore Jonathan Ward has rushed for 829 yards and eight TDs.

“We don’t really talk to the team about streaks,” Central coach John Bonamego said. “Our sights are always forward and never backward; I’ve found that’s the best way to approach things. You have to regroup and re-energize and focus on the next objective and that’s what this team has been able to do.

“I think a lot of credit has to go to the senior leadership on our football team. They have led both by example and by push and pull, by being verbal when they need to be.”

And, on playing Northern Illinois?

“We know it’s going to be a physical game, it always is,” Bonamego said. “We just have to have a good plan and see if we can slow them down a bit on offense and try to find a way to score some points with out offense.”

Bonamego knows he has to contend with Northern Illinois standout sophomore linebacker Sutton Smith who had 5 1-2 tackles for loss and returned a fumble 58 yards for a TD against the Broncos.


Kickoff: 7 Tuesday, Rynearson Stadium, Ypsilanti

Radio: 89.1 FM

Records: Bowling Green 2-9, 2-5 MAC; Eastern Michigan 4-7, 2-5 MAC


Kickoff: 11 Friday, Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mount Pleasant

TV/radio: CBSSN/1270

Records: Northern Illinois 8-3, 6-1; Central Michigan 7-4, 5-2


Kickoff: 11:30 Friday, Glass Bowl, Toledo

TV/radio: ESPNU/1130

Records: Western Michigan 6-5, 4-3; Toledo 9-2, 6-1