MT. PLEASANT, MI – The Central Michigan Chippewas ended a streak and started a new one with a 31-12 win over the Eastern Illinois Chargers on Thursday night. The win was CMU’s first of the season and their first opening win since they defeated Sam Houston State 34-10 in 2002.
Quarterback Dan LeFevour went 21-31 and threw for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns and rushed for 42 yards for the Chippewas. Bodie Reeder went 19-28 and threw for 201 yards and a touchdown for the Chargers.
Chippewas’ halfback Ontario Sneed carried the ground attack with a touchdown on 88 yards rushing and also caught four passes for 43 receiving yards.
“The thing I liked about Ontario tonight was he played physical,” said head coach Butch Jones. “Everyone was talking about his running but he picked up a couple blitzes that were critical to some of our completions down the field. I thought he caught the ball well, he ran well and he really gave us a spark.”
Chippewas’ linebacker Nick Bellore set the defensive tone with 16 tackles. Frank Zombo collected 2.5 of 6 Chippewas’ sacks. The tough defense led to 4 punts out of 6 Chargers possessions in the first half. “I thought we played great. Tackling is important and we did that very well,” said Jones.
Bellore credited the fans with an energy boost to the team. “I thought it was unbelievable, the atmosphere was great. It was the best atmosphere since I have been here at Central. It was a huge turnout tonight and they were behind us the whole game.”
Desmin Ward led the Chargers with 33 yards rushing in a shared effort. Travorous Bess, Shawn Williams and Ron Jordan also rushed 20 yards or more for the Chargers. “We really struggled to get things going on the ground even though we kept trying to pound it. They obviously did a real good job defensively taking it away from us and so we had to resort to the pass,” said Eastern Illinois head coach Bob Spoo.
Andrew Aguila tacked a 37-yard field goal with 11: 48 in the first quarter to put the Chippewas up 3-0. The Chargers answered with a 48-yard field goal by Tyler Wilke with 1:57 left in the first quarter.
After a 23-yard touchdown run by Sneed early in the second quarter, the Chippewas never looked back. Wide receiver Jean Pitts caught a touchdown pass before halftime to put the Chippewas up 17-3. Bryan Anderson and Sean Skergan each caught a touchdown pass to complete the Chippewas’ offensive attack in the second half.
Jones still thinks the team can improve. “I felt like we never got into a rhythm. That’s something we need to work on, getting that rhythm going. We also need to run the ball more consistently. We had big plays, but we never broke that big run. That will be an area of focus this week. We need to be more consistent on our run game.”
Spoo felt differently about his team. “We did exactly what we couldn’t afford to do and that was give them too many opportunities. A good football team like that is going to take advantage of them. They had great field position,” said Spoo. “Their kick returner (Antonio Brown) really hurt us and things like turnovers and penalties hurt. I thought our boys hung in there. We may be a little out of shape but that’s something we can fix. It’s something we can build on and move forward.”
Tyler Wilke added another field goal in the third quarter. Tight end Sean McGrath scored the only Chargers touchdown on a 15-yard reception late in the fourth quarter. The following two-point conversion failed.
Note: The average starting field position for Eastern Illinois was their own 20 yard line, while Central Michigan’s average starting field position was at their own 31. CMU travels to Athens, Georgia to take on preseason number-one ranked Georgia Bulldogs while Eastern Illinois travels to Champaign, Illinois to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini.