Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
BOSTON - It's a familiar refrain from football coaches: All three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams, are of equal importance.
The Central Michigan football team did an adequate job in the first two phases on Saturday at Boston College, playing the Eagles to a near dead heat in most statistical measures, including total yardage and first downs.
The third phase of the game? Not so much. And that, in the final analysis, was the difference in the game.
Michael Walker set up three Boston College scoring drives with long punt returns as the Eagles handed the Chippewas a 28-8 nonconference loss at Alumni Stadium.
CMU punted eight times in the game, and Walker returned four of them for an average of 32 yards. He returned one punt 61 yards to the CMU 6-yard line; another 29 yards to the Chippewa 17; and a third 34 yards to near midfield. All three led to Eagle touchdowns.
"We didn't get very good punts and I don't put that completely on Jack," CMU coach John Bonamego said in reference to punter Jack Sheldon, who averaged 40.6 yards on seven punts.
Sheldon is a rugby-style punter and, as such, he receives the center snap, rolls to his right and then punts. The tradeoff is generally a low punt with a lot of roll that makes the ball difficult for a return man to corral. But it was not effective against Walker, who, like a baseball center fielder, anticipated the direction of the ball and had a full head of steam any time he scooped it up.
"We're trying to use a roll punt and hit a low line drive," Bonamego said. "Part of our plan was not to let that (Walker) field the ball and he was able to catch those going downhill before coverage could get anywhere near him.
"That really stresses your coverage. Guys are just getting up to full speed and the ball's on them. It's not even fair to the coverage because they don't have time to react. It's about placement, consistency with the kicks and getting what you want."
Cooper Mojsiejenko punted once in the second half for CMU, and smacked a 44-yarder. A more traditional punter, Mojsiejenko got plenty of hang time on his punt and, as a result, Walker was held to a short return.
It was the first time this season that Mojsiejenko, a junior, had punted this season. Last season, he punted 20 times for an average of 41.0 yards.
Boston College entered the game having surrendered an average of 294.8 yards per game on the ground. The Chippewas finished with 116, an average of 3.5 yards per rush.
Redshirt freshman Kumehnnu Gwilly led the Chippewas with 61 yards on 12 carries, and scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 1-yard run in the second quarter.
"Offensively it was just, we just couldn't finish," Bonamego said. "We moved the ball in spurts. There were times where we didn't move it well. We knew it was going to be tough moving it against Boston College's defense, especially their front four."
CMU quarterback Shane Morris completed 21 of his 42 pass attempts for 171 yards. He was intercepted three times and sacked three times.
"I thought he made some good throws and I thought he made some bad throws," Bonamego said. "He was under pressure a lot today. And that's a really good defensive front. I think Shane is still growing and learning. He's our quarterback and we just need to help him out in some other areas.
"When you can't run the ball efficiently it puts a lot of stress on the other things. You want to try to stay in third-and-manageable and we were in a lot of third-and-longs. It's just tough on any quarterback when you're in those situations."
Poljan on the receiving end
Redshirt freshman quarterback Tony Poljan saw his highest amount of playing time this season, and frequently lined up at wide receiver.
He made three catches for a team-high 61 yards. He also completed his lone pass attempt, for nine yards.
"Tony's an athlete, he's a quarterback first, and he's a phenomenal athlete, he's a tremendous competitor," Bonamego said. "If you go back to what I said before the first game, I said we're going to find ways to get Tony Poljan in the game.
"The plan this week was to expand his role a little bit. He's a quarterback, that's what we brought him here for, but he's also a great athlete and we feel like if we can get him on the field and use him in some other roles that will help us win we'll continue to do that."
Running back Jonathan Ward made a career-high 10 catches for 49 yards. He also carried four times for 31 yards to finish with 80 all-purpose yards. Poljan, who ran four times for 20 yards, led the Chippewas with 81 all-purpose yards.
Getting on the board
The Chippewas scored first in a game - Nate Brisson-Fast was credited with a safety less than four minutes into the game - for the first times since the season opening 30-27 triple-overtime victory over Rhode Island.
It was the first career safety for Brisson-Fast, a junior defensive tackle, and the Chippewas' first since it recorded one in a 27-24 loss to Kent State on Oct. 29, 2016. That safety came as a result of a blocked punt.
Safety Darwyn Kelly led the Chippewa defense with a career-high 13 tackles, while linebackers Carlos Clark and Alex Briones added 11 and 10, respectively. Briones recovered two fumbles.
Mike Danna led CMU with two tackles-for-loss.
Several Chippewas missed the game with injuries, including wide receiver Corey Willis, who sat out for the third consecutive week, and tight end Tyler Conklin, who has yet to play this season.
Running back Devon Spalding and defensive tackles Chris Kantzavelos and Michael Steinhauer also did not play.
The Chippewas return to Mid-American Conference play at Ohio next Saturday (2 p.m.). The Bobcats are 4-1, 1-0 MAC. They defeated UMass, 58-50, on Saturday.
"We've got seven games left," Bonamego said. "We have everything in front of us. We have a locker room of outstanding young men, we've got a great coaching staff. We have to learn not to hurt ourselves; we have to execute at a higher degree of consistency still.
"At times we did that today. And at times we made some mistakes that cost us and when you're playing against team that has talented players like Boston College does you can't give them the ball back, and we can't have penalties, we can't have turnovers."