Eastern Michigan earned its biggest win in the last 30 years Saturday afternoon when freshman Chad Ryland kicked a 24-yard field goal as time expired for the difference in the Eagles’ 20-19 victory at Purdue.
Getting a win over Rutgers last season was one thing, but knocking off the Boilermakers — who were coming off a season in which they had a winning record, including a bowl victory over Arizona — is quite another.
And it took Iowa graduate transfer Tyler Wiegers to get the job done.
Wiegers, who couldn’t get a start at quarterback for Iowa, finally took advantage of his opportunity to start against a Big Ten opponent and made the most of it, completing 20 of 28 passes for 313 yards and directing a 72-yard, 15-play drive to set up the winning field goal.
Purdue missed a 38-yard field goal just before the winning drive, and then Wiegers was roughed up on a sack at the EMU 37 — which would have set up a fourth-and-14. But the penalty gave the Eagles a first down at Purdue’s 48.
Wiegers got sacked by Cornel Jones again, but this time Jones didn’t slam him back down, resulting in EMU facing a fourth-and-15 from the Eagles' 47 with 1:42 left.
Wiegers showed his composure and accuracy by hitting Arthur Jackson over the middle for a 23-yard gain to the Purdue 30, and a few running plays later, Ryland started a wild celebration by splitting the uprights. Eastern Michigan is 2-0.
“There were lots of ups and downs in the game and we missed some chances and they did too, but we were able to pull it out, pulled together as a team, kept fighting through it and got it done there at the end and that was fun,” said Wiegers, who was a four-star quarterback coming out of high school at Detroit Country Day.
“You just have to take it a play at a time (winning drive). They got a sack and we kind of got bailed out by the penalty there to give us some new life. We were in another tough situation again with the fourth and 15 that we were able to convert.
"We were able to get rolling once we completed that one, then once we got into field goal range the O-line did a great job and they were dominating there to get us near the goal line before the field goal.”
EMU’s offensive line did dominate, pushing running back Ian Eriksen the final 5yards on his 10-yard run to the Purdue 5 with 36 seconds left.
Still, it was Wiegers’ 17-yard toss to Jackson on fourth down to the Purdue 30 that made Ryland’s heroic kick possible.
“Coach (Offensive Coordinator Aaron) Keen dialed up a great call and it worked for us earlier in the game,” Wiegers said. “Arthur was the one who caught it and he does a great job of running that route in particular. I saw that we had a good coverage for the call. They actually sent a blitz so I didn’t have a ton of time to sit back there, let it go a little bit early and I was just hoping he made a play on it.
"I didn’t even get to see the ball get completed because I got hit so I was just kind of listening for a crowd reaction and once I heard the Eastern fans go nuts in the corner I jumped up to keep going.”
No doubt, it was one, if not the biggest program wins since that California Bowl victory over San Jose State back in 1987, EMU’s last Mid-American Conference-championship season.
Anyway you look at it the Eagles deserved the win, gaining 60 more yards (476-416) and forcing two turnovers. EMU defensive end Jeremiah Harris, who had an interception and game-ending sack in last year’s 16-13 win at Rutgers, ending a 0-58 skid against Power Five conference opponents, had four stops against the Boilermakers, while junior defensive end Maxx Crosby had a sack and a forced fumble.
Wiegers — after throwing just six passes in his Iowa career — now ranks second nationally behind Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins in completion percentage (76.6, 38-of-49, 550 yards). He earned MAC West offensive player of the week honors for his performance against Purdue.
"Tyler has been a perfect fit for us the moment he walked on campus in early January," EMU fifth-year head coach Chris Creighton said of Wiegers. "It starts with who the person is always since the quarterback is such a leadership position. He fits our program, was accepted on our team and again it just fit.
"Fast-forward now, he has a very good arm, he's very accurate, but it's his composure and his intelligence even more than his accuracy that I would think are his strengths and he is very accurate. Yes, I'm just super excited about the start that he's off to and excited for what's to come."
Wiegers is thrilled to be playing and starting at quarterback in EMU's spread offense after playing behind C.J. Beathard, then Nate Stanley at Iowa.
“We’re more of a spread team and with that there will be more pass attempts,” he said. “The coaches do a great job of preparing us during the week for what kind of looks we’re going to get. The O-line, the receivers, the running backs, all the parts that go into it with the protection, the scheme, guys getting open and putting the ball on them at the right place, we’ve been working on it since January and all summer. We have a good group of guys and it’s still early so we’re only going to get better.”
After losing the majority of his top receivers from last season, Creighton moved junior Blake Banham from running back to receiver and Banham came through with six receptions for 99 yards against Purdue.
Wiegers and the Eagles now are focused on Saturday's MAC opener at Buffalo (2-0). The teams haven't played since 2014, when EMU earned Creighton his first victory in Ypsilanti, 37-27.
Buffalo and EMU now are contenders in their respective divisions, both displaying talented quarterbacks with junior quarterback Tyree Jackson (Muskegon Mona Shores) earning MAC East offensive player of the week honors after throwing for 275 yards and three TDs in a 36-29 win at Temple last Saturday.