Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
KENT, Ohio – They’re never easy and it was hardly a work of art.
But John Bonamego will take it, tuck it safely away, and move forward.
Shane Morris threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns and the Central Michigan defense made enough plays on Tuesday in posting a 42-23 Mid-American Conference victory over Kent State in the Golden Flashes’ Dix Stadium.
The win was CMU’s fourth consecutive, marking the first time since 2009 the Chippewas have put together a four-game win streak in the regular season. They won four in a row in 2012, the last of which came in the Motor City Bowl.
“They’re never easy, especially on the road on a short week or preparation and following two emotional ball games, two rivalry games,” said Bonamego, who led his team to back-to-back wins over instate rivals Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan over the past two weeks.
“We’ve played better, we’re capable of playing better, but we won’t make apologies for winning,” Bonamego said. “We’ll get back home, look at the tape, make corrections, and start preparing for NIU which will be another tough matchup.”
The Chippewas play host to Northern Illinois in their regular-season finale on Friday, Nov. 24 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. NIU is 7-3 and tied for the top spot in the MAC West with Toledo at 5-1.
Tuesday’s victory lifted the Chippewas to 7-4, 5-2. A win over NIU would give the Chippewas eight victories, the most for a Chippewa team since the 2009 squad finished 12-2.
The Chippewas and Golden Flashes combined for 944 yards and 41 first downs in Tuesday’s game. Kent State finished with 494 yards, and the Chippewas had 450.
Morris turned in what has become a typical, efficient game for the graduate transfer from Michigan. He completed 14 of 22 passes and tossed two touchdown passes. He was intercepted for the first time in four games.
His TD passes went to Corey Willis (53 yards) and Mark Chapman (32). In both cases, the receivers caught the ball and made nice moves to break tackles or shake potential tacklers, then used their speed to outrun defenders to the end zone.
Willis finished with five catches for 75 yards, Chapman had four for 85, and tight end Tyler Conklin had 104 yards on four receptions.
“All those guys did an excellent job getting open and making plays, catching the ball and making something happen,” Morris said. “The (offensive) line did a great job of picking up the blitzes because they were bringing guys all night long.”
Sophomore Jarrod Davis returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to give the Chippewas a 7-3 lead after the Golden Flashes kicked a field goal on their first possession of the game.
The Chippewas never trailed after Davis’ TD, the first of his career.
“That was a huge play by Jarrod,” senior defensive end Joe Ostman said. “The whole team stepped up, but Jarrod in particular had a huge break out game and he really gave our team a spark tonight.”
Davis returned four kickoffs for 206 yards, an average of 51.5 yards.
“We’ve been waiting for that to happen here for a while,” Bonamego said. “Really proud of Jarrod, he’s really worked hard and he’s in that running back room which is really deep and just been trying to find his way, fighting and clawing and working hard.
“He’s gotten an opportunity to return kicks and he comes in and studies and asks questions. I’m just really, really happy for him. We did a good job of blocking it and he found some daylight and he knew what to do when he got it. Great football play and really happy for him.”
Davis notched the Chippewas’ first kickoff return for a TD since Courtney Williams accomplished the feat with an 84-yarder in a 42-10 victory over Eastern Michigan on Nov. 11, 2013.
One For The Record Books
The Chippewas are 4-0 on the road against MAC opponents this season. It is the first time since 2009 that they have accomplished that feat.
CMU is 5-2 on the road this season. The five wins ties the program record for true road (games played in an opponent’s home stadium) victories.
Ostman, who missed CMU’s last two games with an injury, made 11 tackles, including eight solos. Both totals are career highs.
He also had a sack, bringing his season total to 11, the second-highest in program history behind Dan Bazuin’s 16 in 2005. Ostman ranks third in Chippewa history with 25 career sacks, one-half sack behind Frank Zombo, who played at CMU from 2006-09.
The Chippewas finished with seven sacks on the night, including three by Mitch Stanitzek. They recorded 13 tackles-for-loss.
“Just comes down to keep rushing hard,” Ostman said. “We just knew we had to keep rushing and eventually we’d get to him and that’s what happened.”
Linebacker Alex Briones finished with nine tackles, including one sack and three tackles-for-loss.
Kent State quarterback George Bollas, a junior, completed 15 of 28 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 57 yards on 16 carries.
“We didn’t tackle well enough and that’s not like us,” Bonamego said. “We’re normally a very good tackling team. It might have been the short week, I’m not sure what it was. We’ll address when we go back to work and start to prepare for NIU.”
No. 1 In The Nation
The Chippewas recorded two takeaways – Briones recovered a fumble and Sean Bunting had an interception – bringing their season total to 29, tops among FBS teams.
CMU entered the game tied for the top spot with Wyoming and Washington State.
Bunting’s interception was his fourth of the season. CMU has 17 interceptions and is tied with South Florida for No. 2 in the nation.
On The Run
The Chippewas finished with 152 rushing yards, marking their fourth consecutive game that they have run the ball effectively.
Jonathan Ward led the ground game with 80 yards on 13 carries, a 6.2-yard average, and scored on a 12-yard run. Morris finished with 50 yards on eight attempts, also a 6.2-yard average. Morris’ total is a career best, and he highlighted his performance with a 35-yard scamper, which was also a career best.
Ward has rushed for 466 yards and is averaging 7.4 yards per carry over the Chippewas’ last four games. He has scored six rushing TDs in that span.
Finding The End Zone
Redshirt freshman quarterback Tony Poljan scored his first career TD on a 3-yard run in the second quarter.
Sophomore running back Romello Ross scored his first TD of the season on a 2-yard plunge to ice the game with 2:04 remaining. It was the first TD for Ross, who missed the entire 2016 season with an injury, since the 2015 Quick Lane Bowl.
The Chippewas have won five of their last six starts since starting the season 2-3.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked,” Bonamego said in explaining his team’s surge. “They’ve stayed together and I’ve said it time and again, I think the seniors on this team deserve a lot of credit. That entire class, they set the standard in terms of preparation and accountably. They’ve held themselves accountable and they hold everyone else accountable.
“You need that. You need the players to buy in and reinforce the message that you hammer home every single day. Player-led teams are always a lot stronger than coach-led teams.”