Eastern Michigan University's football team kicked off its 123rd season on the brand new "EMU Gray" turf at Rynearson Stadium with a neck-and-neck, 31-28, victory over Morgan State University Saturday, Aug. 30. The Eagles had to wait through a 57-minute rain delay along with a last-second field goal attempt by the Bears to give Head Coach Chris Creighton his first win as an FBS Head Coach.
EMU was led on the ground by Bronson Hill (Grand Rapids, Mich.-Catholic Central) and Darius Jackson (Sparta, Ill.-Sparta), who combined for 187 yards rushing. Hill surpassed the century mark for the 10th time in his career, going 114 yards on 19 carries. Jackson notched a career high in rushing with 73 yards on 17 carries and also set a career mark in receiving yards, pulling in five catches for 22 yards. Reginald Bell, Jr. (Los Angeles, Calif.-Susan Miller Dorsey) led the offense, making a start in the first game of his collegiate career and throwing 11-for-16 with a total of 59 yards.
The Eagle defense saw a career night from Pat O'Connor (Chicago, Ill.-Saint Rita), who totaled 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss with a remarkable 20 yards in total loss. Also picking up 10 tackles were Hunter Matt (Wyandotte, Mich.-Roosevelt) and Great Ibe (Hanover, Md.-Meade (Concordia)). Matt led the team in solo attacks, with six, while Ibe and O'Connor notched five apiece.
Morgan State ran much of its offense through the air, as Robert Council went 18-for-28, throwing 269 yards for three touchdowns, including a 75-yard score. Lamont Brown III paced the offense, rushing for 124 yards on 18 carries. The Bears had some fierce defenders, as four members of the MSU line had at least 10 tackles. Cody Acker led the way with 19, while Delonta Hall added 16, Peterson Janvier had 12, and Paul Eatman, Jr. recorded 11 stops.
The Green and White was able to keep the Bears at bay for the first part of the opening drive, as Matt, Lavonte Robinson (Cleveland, Ohio-Saint Edward), and DaQuan Pace (Detroit, Mich.-Cass Technical) did their part in stopping Morgan State players off the pass. Council was able to break through the defense with a handful of rushes, culminating in a 23-yard rush along the left sideline before being denied entry into the end zone by Pace on the three-yard line. However, the Eagles were unable to stop the next play, as Council found his favorite target of the drive in Brown III for the first touchdown of the contest. An extra point from Chris Moller left the Green and White with a 7-0 deficit, but the Eagles had ample time to battle back with 8:08 remaining in the first quarter.
After gaining possession of the pigskin for the first time in the 2014 campaign, the Eagles quickly gained a first down thanks to a stealthy sprint up the middle by Bell in his first appearance donning the Green and White. Bell kept his composure to help the Green and White move the chains another time by finding Tyreese Russell (Melrose Park, Ill.-Walther Lutheran) in the open pocket, tossing an easy 14-yard lob to find the senior on the MSU 36-yard line. Another throw along the left side found Jackson inside the red zone, and the Eagles found themselves at first and goal. A handoff to Jackson paved the way for the team's first touchdown inside "The Factory," and Dylan Mulder (Saline, Mich.-Saline) was able to convert the extra point to knot the score, 7-7, with 3:06 remaining.
Riding the momentum from an outstanding offensive performance, the Eagle defense stepped up its game in the Bears' next possession. Ibe made two consecutive stops to give MSU a third down before helping O'Connor slam Council back 10 yards, giving the Bears a highly lengthy fourth-and-14.
The entirety of Rynearson Stadium was sent into a mad frenzy when Nathan Adams (Crozier, Va.-Goochland) blocked the punt, recovered the ball, and scrambled into the end zone for another EMU touchdown. The blocked punt touchdown was the first since Travis Lewis accomplished the feat at Kent State University, Nov. 13, 2004. It was also just the third blocked punt return touchdown by an EMU squad since 1967. Mulder's leg remained perfect on the extra point, giving the Eagles a quick command of the board with a 14-7 advantage with 54 seconds remaining.
The Bears started off the second quarter with a bang as Council found Eme Akonawe open for a dash down the middle to the EMU 25-yard line before he was taken down by Willie Creear (Seattle, Wash.-Lindbergh (ButteJC)). MSU made a statement and fought back from its previous possession's kerfuffle, making its way down the field to the 10-yard line. O'Connor made another tremendous sack on Council for a loss of 12 yards off an attempted third-down conversion. Gary White, Jr. (Raleigh, N.C.-Southeast Raleigh (Grossmont)) then blocked the field goal attempt, the first time since a matchup against Kent State on Nov. 19, 2011, that an Eagle had done so.
Bell turned to Ryan Brumfield (Chester Springs, Pa.-Owen J. Robert) on the Eagles' next drive, as the senior running back helped the ball move 30 yards down the field. Bell found an open Brumfield for the rush into the end zone, this time making a 16-yard jaunt to elevate the Green and White's lead to 21-7 with 6:49 to play.
Unfortunately, the Bears picked up their offensive pace drastically on the next drive, thanks in large part to Brown III. The redshirt-sophomore running back moved the ball down the field 65 yards over four plays, breaking free for a 46-yard rush to a touchdown to put the Bears within seven points as the Eagles still led, 21-14, with 4:57 to play in the first half.
The Eagles were unable to muster any points in the ensuing possession, and fell victim to another touchdown from the Bears as they deadlocked the score after going 80 yards in just eight plays and less than 90 seconds. With less than one minute remaining in the half, the score stood at 21-21.The Eagles made their way into MSU territory, but were unable to put any more points on the board before they made their way into the locker room at the close of the half.
The Eagles were able to get the gears moving to start the second half with a ground attack by Hill and Jackson. However, the Green and White was unable to gain any momentum and was forced to concede a punt. Owen Dubiel (East Jackson, Mich.-East Jackson) was able to make the most of the situation, dropping the ball on the MSU five-yard line to give the Bears a challenging distance of 95 yards to travel. Though the Eagles had ample room to stop the Bears, they only allowed Morgan State to travel 15 yards down-field before regaining possession.
Brogan Roback (Maumee, Ohio-Toledo St. John's Jesuit) entered the game to give the Eagles a fresh look at the quarterback position, but the veteran Eagle could not work any magic to give the Eagles the offensive spark that they needed. The Bears jumped at the opportunity to gather some more points of their own, and their effort proved fruitful when Council threw to Thomas Martin for a 75-yard touchdown. With 5:30 to play in the third quarter, the Eagles trailed once more by seven points, down 21-28.
The previous MSU touchdown seemed to fire the Eagles up, especially Hill, who busted through the MSU defense and carried the ball 35 yards in four plays before the Bears called a timeout in an attempt to slow the determined senior. The defense keyed in on Hill when the teams took to the field again, and Roback found a new target in Dustin Creel (Industry, Pa.-Western Beaver), who had two catches for 15 yards to put the Eagles in the red zone. As the Bears turned their attention to Creel after the success of the previous plays, Brumfield took the ball and stomped through the line for a 14-yard rush, marking the second time in his career to score two rushing touchdowns in one contest, to equalize the score, 28-28, with two minutes to play in the quarter.
Facing formidable winds and a 42-yard distance between his foot and the goal posts , Mulder was brought in for a field goal attempt with 13:41 left in the contest . The junior kicker rose to the occasion and sailed the ball through the uprights to give the Eagles the advantage once more, 31-28.
The Bears were faced with a sturdy wall of defense on their next drive, capped off with a stellar tackle off a read on a screen pass from Matt. The Green and White was faced with a lofty task in making its way nearly the entire length of the field after MSU's Lawrence Forbes delivered a punt on the one-yard line. Jackson barreled through the MSU defensive line to carry the ball 17 yards in three attempts.
EMU's momentum was halted due to inclement weather in the area and the contest was delayed for 57 minutes until the teams were allowed back on the field with 9:13 to play.
When the game finally resumed in front of a small but loyal crowd of Eastern fans, the Eagles gave a valiant effort to advance the ball. Despite its best efforts, the team had to give up another punt. The Bears appeared refreshed by the game delay, as Brown ran 32 yards on the first play before Pace forced him out of bounds. But the EMU defense had not given up and returned to the ensuing plays more determined, resulting in a stripped ball by O'Connor to give the ball back to the Eagles with just 42 yards to the goal and 5:21 to play.
Inspired by the change in game direction from the outstanding defensive play, the Eagles began to move the chains quickly with a pair of rushes by Hill to move the ball 25 yards up the field. The Green and White soon found itself within reasonable scoring distance and decided to go in for a field goal attempt, but Mulder's kick veered off to the left and returned the ball to the Bears.
MSU made a handful of scrambles toward the goal line before a fumble by Council dropped the Bears back to second-and-17. They were able to advance to fourth-and-nine at the EMU 38-yard line, giving Chris Moller a 55-yard attempt. A false start on the snap pushed the attempt back five yards, and MSU was unable to tie the contest, giving the Eagles the first win of the 2014 season and Coach Creighton's first win as an FBS Head Coach. After the game, the team personally thanked the fans who remained throughout the entire game before heading into the lockerroom as victors.
The Eagles will take to the road for five weeks, playing their next contest at the University of Florida, Sept. 6, in Gainesville, Fla. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network as well as on the airwaves of WEMU 89.1 FM.