Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MUNCIE, Ind. – An inspiring performance, and one that just might propel the Central Michigan football team as it hits the stretch run.
The Chippewas dominated on both sides of the ball and provided a big play on special teams Saturday in trouncing Ball State, 56-9, in a Mid-American Conference game before 15,850 on homecoming at the Cardinals’ Scheumann Stadium.
It came one week after the Chippewas saw their own homecoming spoiled by Toledo, 30-10.
“Overall very pleased,” CMU coach John Bonamego said. “Coaches did a good job and our players did a good job of staying together, staying the course and really continuing to grind.
“It’s tough when you come off a loss like we had a week ago. To be able to bounce back this way is good. We’ve got some time here to heal up a little bit, look at some things we’re doing, some self-scouting and hopefully get some guys back to 100 percent health.”
Next for the Chippewas is rival Western Michigan in Kalamazoo on Wednesday, Nov. 1. CMU is 4-4, 2-2 MAC. The Broncos won at Eastern Michigan on Saturday, 20-17, in overtime.
Western, the defending MAC champion, is 5-3, 3-1.
“It’s a big win for us,” said senior defensive end Joe Ostman, who spearheaded an outstanding defensive effort with a career-high four sacks against the Cardinals. “We felt like it was one that we needed and we’re excited to move on to next week. We know that Western’s next. We didn’t talk about it much this week, we had to focus on Ball State. Western’s a huge game for us, that goes without being said.”
The Chippewas finished with 455 total yards, 253 on the ground. It was a season-high in rushing yards, and it came one week after CMU was held to a season-low 62 yards in the driving rain by Toledo.
Bonamego said after the Toledo loss that the Chippewas were going to re-emphasize the run game.
“We really focused this week, our scout team gave us a great look,” senior offensive lineman J.P. Quinn said. “It’s a little bit of scheme, but mostly just busting your butt during the week, getting after it. It’s a lot of hard work during the week and it shows up on game day. We needed this big time for team morale.”
Jonathan Ward led the Chippewas with 97 yards rushing and two touchdowns; Romello Ross added 83 yards; and Kumehnnu Gwilly had 48 including a 33-yard TD run. The Chippewas averaged 5.7 yards per carry which helped open up the passing game.
Quarterback Shane Morris was an ultra-efficient 16-for-21 passing for 199 yards and four touchdowns, three to Corey Willis.
“It changes the complete outlook of the game,” Morris said of the successful running game. “We’re not throwing the ball 45, 50 times a game even though we can do that and that’s what the offense is built to do and we’ve been successful in doing that.
“Ground and pound and throw it over the top when you can. I love that kind of offense. It shows how dynamic our offense can be.”
Willis caught five passes for 98 yards. His TDs covered 31, 63 and 4 yards. On his two long scores, he was wide open down the right sideline. Tight end Tyler Conklin caught a 34-yard TD pass on a play in which he was also wide open.
“That’s when you miss it -- I’ve been there,” Morris said of spotting his receivers without a defender in sight. “You see those guys wide open and you just don’t want to miss it. You’ve got to not think about it and throw it like you normally would.”
Conklin finished with three catches for 45 yards, while Mark Chapman had four for 34.
Leading 21-6, the Chippewas’ Jerrod Davis broke through and blocked a Ball State punt with under two minutes to play in the first half.
Tee’ondre Harvey came up with the bouncing ball and returned it to the Ball State 12-yard line. Two plays later, Ward scored on a 3-yard run to extend the lead to 28-6.
“We’re going to be aggressive in that area,” said Bonamego, who added that the Chippewas called for the punt block on the play. “It was good to get one called and have it come home. It was a huge play.”
It was the first time CMU has blocked a punt since an Oct. 29 game last season, when Winslow Chapman accomplished the feat against Kent State.
All of Ball State’s points came via field goals. It marked the first time CMU had held an opponent without a touchdown since a 49-3 victory over Presbyterian in the 2016 season opener. It was the first time the Chippewas have held a MAC opponent out of the end zone since a 37-0 win over UMass on Nov. 23, 2013, a stretch of 29 league games.
CMU recorded eight sacks, including two each by Nate Brisson-Fast and Michael Danna. The Chippewas posted nine tackles-for-loss for a total of 35 yards.
“Just playing with the lead kind of forces them to throw, kind of puts their back against the wall,” said Ostman, who ranks third all-time in CMU history with 24 career sacks.
“I think the defensive line, the defense as a whole, played very hard today, just kept coming. We knew that if we kept rushing hard we’d get after them and that’s what happened.”
The Chippewa defense held Ball State to 208 total yards, including 81 on the ground. Both totals were season lows for a CMU opponent.
Safety Darwyn Kelly led the Chippewas with 11 tackles, while linebacker Michael Oliver added 10.
The Chippewa defense got into the scoring act in the fourth quarter when Alonzo McCoy scooped up a loose ball and raced 27 yards for a TD.
Cornerback Sean Bunting started the sequence, stripping the ball from a Ball State ball carrier. The Ball State player then grasped Bunting who lateralled in the direction of McCoy. The ball landed on the turf, and McCoy, a redshirt freshman, grabbed it and ran untouched for his first career TD.
It marked the first time the Chippewa defense had scored on an opponent fumble since Jahleel Addae did it against Western Michigan in 2011. It was CMU’s first defensive TD since Tony Annese returned an interception last season against Kent State.
The resounding victory was important in many respects, Bonamego said, not the least of which was for team morale in light of last week’s loss to Toledo.
“Look, we’ve got some great young men in that locker room,” he said. “We’ve got some outstanding leadership in that senior class. The culture in there is very, very strong and when you have that type of belief, and you have that type of investment, you can bounce back from adversity, you can weather the storm through some hard times.
“You need that to succeed as a football team and you need that in life. Make no mistake about it, this is just football. Everyone is going to have to overcome something at some point in their life. I’m just really proud of them. This was a big one, this was an important one to get on the road.”
The 56 points was the most scored by a Chippewa team since they won at Ball State, 58-38, on Oct. 6, 2007.
The Chippewas twice have scored 56 since that game, and both came during the 2009 season, against Eastern Michigan and against Toledo.
Morris said the Chippewas’ performance is particularly inspiring as they look ahead to Western Michigan.
Morris, a graduate student in his first year at CMU, knows something about rivalry games, having spent the first four years of his collegiate career at Michigan, and was part of the Wolverines’ rivalry with Ohio State.
“It’s kind of the same vibe you get from the Michigan-Ohio State game,” he said of the Central-Western rivalry. “I feel that energy, I feel that vibe and I know exactly what (teammates are) talking about even though I really haven’t been around (this) rivalry. I’m excited to play in it -- really excited to go down there and play in it. I can’t wait. It’s going to be fun.”