Column: Chippewas Have Yet to Arrive

By Matt DeVries / @DeVries_Matt

MT. PLEASANT, Mich. — The Central Michigan football program had a chance to make a statement to the country on Tuesday night. Instead, an opportunity passed them by as the Chippewas fell to Toledo 28-23 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

“We felt we had a chance to win, but the bottom line is Toledo made more plays than we did and we hurt ourselves with a few mistakes,” CMU head coach John Bonamego said. “I am proud of the effort and fight in our team. I still believe we’re a very good football team and they’re are brighter days ahead for CMU football.”

CMU was on television in more than 94 million homes with ESPN2 broadcasting the game. College football fans were more than likely getting their first look at Cooper Rush at the quarterback position.

Opportunities like these don’t come around too often. The chance to play in meaningful games in November, something Bonamego had said earlier in the week, can be a rare occurrence depending on the program.

Entering play, CMU needed some help, but were in a good position to be a major contender for a Mid-American Conference West Division championship. With the Rockets being their toughest opponent remaining on CMU’s schedule, and the likes of Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Toledo playing one another in the final few weeks of the season, the Chippewas had every reason to believe they could be one of the two teams playing in the MAC Championship Game at Ford Field on Dec. 4.

Bonamego knew what was at stake when they were trailing 21-10 at the half saying that, “we have to play our best football in these next 30 minutes; this is our season,” as he headed for the locker room.

He was right. Even after losing a heartbreaker to Western Michigan on the road in early October, the Chippewas still had a chance to make this a special season.

The decision to burn two timeouts on back-to-back drives (one on offense, the other on defense) by CMU in the 3rd quarter ultimately came back to bite them as they trailed 28-23 with 3:26 remaining in the game. Toledo was getting the ball back after Rush led the Chippewas on yet another scoring drive that culminated with a six-yard pass to Anthony Rice. However, their onside kick attempt failed. Toledo got the ball back and end up missing a 33-yard field goal, giving the Chippewas one last hope. But Rush waited till his final pass of the game to through his first interception, solidifying their fate.

Despite the late gaffe, blame cannot be laid at the feet of Rush. The junior signal-caller was 33-of-52 for 349 yards and two touchdowns. There were questionable back-foot throws that reminded you of Kirk Cousin at Michigan State, but Rush was one of the few constants for an offense that was only able to muster 59 rushing yards.

In the end, the Chippewa defense had no answer for the Toledo offense as the Rockets racked up 490 yards of offense.

What’s next?

“We have pride, two more games, one of them on the road next week, bowl eligibility and a winning season to play for,” Bonamego said.

Pride is all well and good. Yet a national audience witnessed a Chippewa program that isn’t “there” yet. It may arrive sometime soon. Maybe next year (with a senior quarterback leading your team).

But it won’t be in 2015.