By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com -
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Central Michigan linebacker Justin Cherocci was the leading tackler in the Mid-American Conference and among the best in the nation a year ago.
On Saturday, he added yet another line his ever more impressive resume when he finished with a career-high 18 tackles including 12 solos in the Chippewas’ 24-10 loss at Kansas.
One of those stops was a sack, and he also forced a fumble.
Cherroci, who personifies the blue-collar get-it-done attitude that football coaches covet, was in the mood to talk about tackling Toledo next week in CMU’s Mid-American Conference opener.
“All we’re focusing on now is being 1-0 in the MAC,” said Cherroci, a team captain who echoed coach Dan Enos’ 24-hour mantra: Win or lose, you have 24 hours to hash over your last game. “Twenty-four hour rule with this, and we’ll be done with it, and then it’s on to Toledo.”
Cherroci led a defense that, outside of two big plays by Kansas, did a reasonably good job of containing the Jayhawks. One of those big plays came on the first of the game, when Tony Pierson bolted 74 yards for a touchdown to stake the Jayhawks to a 7-0 lead 18 seconds into the game.
“I thought we gave good effort, but they just executed better and did what they needed to in crucial moments,” Cherocci said. “We knew everything they were going to do, we just, on that first play, didn’t get off the blocks. We corrected, and it didn’t happen again. Just little mistakes.”
Cherroci, who is on the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List, is averaging 12 tackles per game, which ties him for 10th nationally, and his 24 solos tie him for 27th. He has 330 tackles in his career, and needs five to move onto CMU’s all-time top 10 list.
If he continues at his 12-per-game pace, he would record one of the top-10 tackling seasons in school history.
Mitch Stanitzek a CMU true freshman defensive end, notched his first career interception when hard-hitting safety Tony Annese drilled a Kansas receiver, jarring the ball loose on pass from quarterback Montell Cozart.
It ended a Kansas drive inside the Chippewas’ 20-yard line in the first quarter.
It was the Chippewas’ seventh interception of the season, which ties them for fifth nationally, and it was their 12th in their last seven games going back to the final three games of the 2013 season.
CMU placekicker Brian Eavey, a redshirt freshman, kicked a career-long 37-yard field goal in the second quarter. It was his third field goal in three attempts this season.
Eavey’s previous career best, 26 yards, came a week previous in a 40-3 loss to Syracuse. He is one of 20 kickers nationally to have made good on all of his attempts in 2014.
CMU punter Ron Coluzzi punted eight times on Saturday for an average of 39.9 yards. Four of his punts were fair caught, one was downed inside the Jayhawks’ 20-yard line, and another went for a touchback, Coluzzi’s first in 19 punts this season.
On the year, Coluzzi is averaging 40.2 yards per punt with a long of 53. Seven of his punts have been downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
True freshman Amari Coleman served as the Chippewas’ deep man on punt returns and lined up deep, alongside Courtney Williams, on kickoff returns.
Coleman returned three punts for eight yards, and two kickoffs for 74 yards, including a 50-yarder in the first quarter.
CMU quarterback Cooper Rush completed 18 of 26 attempts for 178 yards with one interception.
Rush’s 18 completions tied his season high, which he set the week previous against Syracuse, and his 69.2 pass completion percentage was his best of the season.
The Chippewas go to Toledo on Saturday, Sept. 27, for their Mid-American Conference opener.
The Rockets are 2-2 after opening league play on Saturday with 34-23 home win over Ball State. Toledo opened with a win over New Hampshire before falling to Missouri and Cincinnati.
CMU and Toledo tied for third place in the MAC West Division in 2013 at 5-3. The Rockets finished 7-5 overall, while the Chippewas went 6-6.
Toledo won last year’s meeting, 38-17, and carries a four-game win streak over the Chippewas. The Rockets lead the all-time series, 21-18, and there have been three ties.
The start of the second half of Saturday’s CMU-Kansas game was delayed 25 minutes by lightning.