MT. PLEASANT, MI - The Central Michigan Chippewas, with a convincing 38-28 victory over rival Western Michigan, gave notice Saturday to the rest of the MAC that they're not ready to relinquish conference supremacy.
CMU Freshman RB Bryan Schroeder / Photo: Deb Ruthenberg
Playing before the first-ever sellout at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, the Chippewas and Broncos treated the overflow crowd of 30,302 to an offensive showcase that included 1,044 yards of combined offense, including a record 471 yards passing by Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller.
But this day would belong to Central Michigan, led by a surprise starter at quarterback.
In the week leading up to the game Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones had indicated that junior quarterback Dan LeFevour would likely start after LeFevour missed the second-half of last week's game against Temple with an ankle injury. However just prior to kickoff Jones tabbed senior backup quarterback Brian Brunner as the starter.
"I found out that I was starting a half-hour before kickoff," said a beaming Brunner shortly after leading the Chippewas to victory. It was Brunner's first start since 2006.
"Dan (LeFevour) could have played today," added Jones. "He would have been at about 75-80% and we felt that Brian had earned the chance to start (based on last week's performance)."
Brunner wasted no time in putting the Chippewas on the board, directing CMU on a coolly efficient five play, 68-yard drive that culminated in the game's opening score when Brunner connected with wide receiver Joe Bockheim for a 24-yard touchdown strike.
The Chippewas would never trail in the contest.
The Broncos however had an opportunity to answer right back on their opening possession but their 76-yard drive stalled when they were stopped on fourth-down and goal from the two-yard line when Tim Hiller's pass intended for Austin Pritchard fell incomplete.
The Broncos would turn the ball over on downs three times during the contest.
Then it was time for another new member of the Chippewas' starting lineup to announce his presence.
True freshman tailback Bryan Schroeder capped an 11-play 98-yard drive for CMU on the Chippewas' next possession after Western Michigan had been stopped on the Chips' two-yard line by scampering 19-yards into the end-zone to give CMU a 14-0 lead in the opening quarter.
Schroeder rushed five times for 32 yards on the drive and racked up 106 yards on the day, scoring twice in his starting debut giving the Chippewas their first 100-yard rushing effort from a running back this season.
The freshman out of Corydon, Indiana had been sidelined most of the season with a knee injury but Jones did not hesitate to insert Schroeder into the starting lineup.
"He is a real strong downhill runner," noted Jones. "We knew we had something special in him back in camp."
Shortly after the Chips had opened a 14-0 lead the Broncos stormed back on their next two possessions, not content to simply let the Chippewas run and hide.
WMU quarterback Tim Hiller, who had passed for a MAC-best 23 touchdowns entering the game, led the Broncos 86-yards downfield late in the first quarter after the Chips had expanded their lead to 14-0, completing three consecutive passes, including a big-gainer of 41 yards to Juan Nunez which eventually set up a one-yard touchdown run by Brandon West to trim the Chippewas' lead to 14-7. Nunez would go on to record a career-high 145 yards receiving in the game.
|CMU WR Bryan Anderson outuels WMU DB Louis Delmas
Photo: Robert Barclay
West would also account for the Broncos' second touchdown which tied the game at 14-14 when he went in from three yards out early in the second quarter. But the Broncos' ground attack would be silenced from that point on as the Broncos were forced to air the ball out as their ground game suffered several breakdowns for the second straight week.
"We didn't run the ball well at all today," said a frustrated Broncos head coach Bill Cubit afterward. "I thought Brandon struggled on the ground and it put too much pressure on our passing game."
Before halftime however, CMU's Schroeder would add his second touchdown when his one-yard run put the Chippewas back in front 21-14.
Through the first two quarters the high-flying offenses had put up over 600 yards but the Chippewas held a solid edge in rushing, outgaining the Broncos 121-38 on the ground in the first half, a trend that would continue with the Broncos finishing the contest with 49 yards rushing. It was the third time in the last four games that the CMU defense has held an opponent to less than 100 yards rushing.
The passing game though came through on the Broncos' opening possession of the third quarter when once again Hiller took to the air and found Juan Nunez, this time on a six-yard scoring strike in a drive that saw Hiller complete six passes to four different receivers to pull even 21-21.
But the Chippewas would respond by putting up fourteen straight points that would essentially seal their victory.
Barely more than three minutes after the Broncos had tied the score, Central Michigan marched 68-yards downfield when wide receiver Antonio Brown too a pitchout from Brunner at the Broncos' two-yard line but pulled and fired a pass to tight end Rocky Weaver in the end-zone for a touchdown.
"I played quarterback in my prep school days," noted Brown when discussing his touchdown pass. "Last week I had a chance to hit Bryan (Anderson) and kind of overthrew it and to have a second chance and have it (go for a touchdown) was amazing."
Brown also had a productive day receiving, leading the Chippewas with ten receptions for 113 yards against one of the MAC's top defensive secondaries.
"They've got some great defensive backs and for us to come out and get the win against the best just boosts the confidence of our receiving corps," said Brown.
|CMU head coach Butch Jones hoists Rivalry Trophy in celebration.
Photo: Deb Ruthenberg
But the day's scoring was far from finished as the Broncos would answer once more after the Chippewas extended their lead to 35-21 on Justin Hoskins' 9-yard touchdown run.
Facing fourth down and ten from the Chippewas' 32-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, Broncos' quarterback Tim Hiller looped a pass over the defender finding wide receiver Schneider Julien in the corner of the end-zone for a 32-yard touchdown that narrowed the gap to 35-28 but the Broncos would get no closer while Central Michigan would close the game's scoring on a 20-yard Andrew Aguila field goal to make it 38-28 with just over one minute left in the contest.
The Chippewas' offense excelled in the clutch throughout the contest, converting on 10-15 third down opportunities, including several key third-and-long conversions that kept drives going, keeping a tired Broncos defense on the field.
"We did a great job on third and long situations," noted Jones. "It helped change the field position, giving us good field position all day."
Broncos head coach Bill Cubit also saw the third down conversions as key components in the contest.
"It was disappointing that we were unable to get off the field defensively in several critical situations," Cubit observed afterward. "Some of the third down conversions you simply cannot let happen. These werent third and shorts that were converted. We forced them into some third and longs that they turned into first downs. That just cant happen if you expect to win a game. That was the difference in todays game."
The loss overshadowed a record-shattering performance by Broncos' quarterback Tim Hiller who passed for a school record 471 yards in the loss.
"He is just fun to watch," said Cubit discussing Hiller's performance. "We are never out of a game with him under center. He makes good decisions with the football and delivers an accurate ball. He played his guts out today."
But while Hiller put up the big numbers, it was Central Michigan's Brunner who walked off the field with the victory, and feeling of satisfaction after possibly feeling that the Chippewas had been overlooked in the heated MAC West division race with 24th-ranked Ball State and Western Michigan, on a six-game winning streak entering the game, receiving more attention than the defending two-time conference champions.
"We took a little bit of slight at that (being the underdogs at home to Western Michigan). People have a tendency to say Western Michigan and Ball State are the teams right now, but we're still the champions."
The Chippewas delivered Brunner's message loud and clear and now sit alone atop the MAC West standings at 4-0 in conference play, one-half game ahead of 24th-ranked Ball State with a November 19 showdown at Kelly/Shorts looming with the possibility that the MAC West title and another trip to the MAC title tilt, will be on the line.
"The more you win, the more is at stake," added CMU head coach Jones whose team first must endure its second three-game road trip of the season before tangling with Ball State but for now the Chippewas are content to enjoy a third straight win over their rivals.
"For me personally, it's a huge win," added Brunner. "But for our seniors to go out on top against a great Western Michigan team is really special.
"To end my career with a victory against Western is phenomenal."
NOTES: Saturday's sellout was the first at Kelly/Shorts Stadium since it was expanded in 1998CMU QB Brunner had a career high 346 yards passingCMU WR Bryan Anderson is now the Chippewas' all-time leading receiver with 194 career receptionsCMU DE Frank Zombo had 2.5 sacks, the third time this season he has registered multiple sacks in a single gameWMU QB Tim Hiller became the first 400-yard passer for the Broncos since Chad Munson (vs. William & Mary) in 2003Hiller's 471 yards passing set a Kelly/Shorts Stadium and Broncos team recordWMU had three receivers go over 100 yards receiving (Nunez -145, Julien 128 and Jamarko Simmons - 118) for only the second time in school historythe winner of the game was presented with a the brand new Cannon CMU-WMU Rivalry Trophy.