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EMU 14, Western Michigan 10: Michigan MAC champions!

October 23, 2011

We’ll talk about what this means for EMU’s bowl hopes (bowl hopes! EMU! at the end of October!) later this week — we’ve got some extra time since the team has a bye this weekend — so for now let’s just talk about yesterday’s game.

In the end, there was this:

 So how did they get there?

Dominique Sherrer was back on the field, and took 11 carries for 86 net yards. (Photo by Kenneth Bailey)

The first half went by very quickly, taking barely more than an hour, and it fit EMU’s game plan to a “T”. Midway through the first quarter, EMU went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Western Michigan 5-yard line. At the time I thought it was a mistake — it seemed like it was going to be a low scoring game where each team would need to take any points they could get, however they came — and it very nearly was, but EMU’s defense was able to repeatedly stop what had been a potent Bronco offense.

In the third quarter, the long completion to Olds was a little underthrown; if Gillett had put a little more on that he could have hit Olds in stride and he almost-certainly would have taken it in for a touchdown, but instead Olds had to slow down to make the catch. A few plays later Gillett overthrew Hoskins in what again would have been a touchdown. Instead, EMU was forced to settle for a 45-yard field goal attempt, which went wide left. As in the first quarter the defense was able to come up with the big stops needed to cover for the offense’s shortcomings.

Andy Mulumba returned a fumble that was ruled not to have happened. (Photo by Kenneth Bailey)

Starting at the beginning of the fourth quarter, a whole series of — well, let’s be polite and call them questionable calls by the refs went steadily against EMU. The first was when what appeared to be a fumble at midfield by Tevin Drake was returned to the 8-yard line by Andy Mulumba, but Drake was ruled down. No replay was shown on the screen at the stadium, and it’s hard to tell on the low-quality Eagle All-Access, but based on how the ball bounced, it sure seems to me that it had to have  been loose before Drake hit the ground. This was followed immediately by a dubious pass interference call against Willie Williams (covering Jordan White) that set up Western Michigan’s field goal a few plays later that gave the Broncos their only lead of the game.

EMU stopped the Broncos on both fourth and fifth down from inside the 1-yard line. (Photo by Kenneth Bailey)

Three short possessions later (a three-and-out by each team and then Javonti Greene’s 50-yard touchdown run) the refs starting getting involved again. The most eggregious call was a pass interference penalty against Marcell Rose (covering Jordan White) on an uncatchable pass that was a full seven yards beyond either player. Ron English came onto the field to protest the call and the refs added an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty into the mix. Several plays later, Latarrius Thomas made a tremendous play to stop the Broncos just short of the goal line on third down, with the lineman right on top of the play. After EMU had already stopped the Broncos well short on the subsequent fourth down, the refs decided to go back and review the third down play. Fortunately, on the fifth down, the Eagles stopped Western Michigan again. Taking over inside the 1-yard line, EMU was able to slowly drive down the field to run the remaining 5 minutes off the clock for the win.

In the end, the team hoisted the Michigan MAC Trophy.

This was a huge win for the program and for Ron English, and taken together with last week’s win in Mount Pleasant, I think we’ve seen this program turn the the corner. Although EMU won the Michigan MAC trophy in 2007 and retained it in 2008, the Eagles have generally been so uncompetitive over the past few years that it seemed like much longer. In the bigger picture, EMU is now 5-3 overall, locking in their winningest season since 1995 with four games remaining, and 3-1 in the MAC. The Eagles actually started 3-1 in the MAC as recently as 2004, but they also lost to Eastern Illinois, an FCS team, during their 3-4 start, but the last 5-3 start was (unsurprisingly) 1995 again. One big difference for EMU’s post-season hopes (again, more on this later in the week) is that the number of bowl games, and hence teams getting bids, has nearly doubled, from 18 to 35.

Where last week the offense, and specifically Gillett, had to make big plays late in the game to overcome EMU’s defensive failure, yesterday it was the defense coming up big to hold down a potent Western Michigan offense and secure the win. Although we often pick them apart and criticize shortcoming — don’t worry, we’ll keep doing that! — this weekend was as good a time as any to remember that, in the end, they’re one team, and they all lose or win together. Here’s hoping for more of the latter!

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