A 57 minute rain delay couldn’t stop the Eastern Michigan football team from coming away with a victory to open up the 2014 season.
New head coach Chris Creighton earns his first victory as the Eagles defeat the visiting Morgan State Bears 31-28.
Morgan State opened up the game with a 75 yard touchdown drive, including going 4-for-4 on third down, capped off by a three yard touchdown run from Lamont Brown III to give the Bears an early 7-0 lead.
EMU answered with a 75 yard touchdown drive of their own, running the ball efficiently for 50 yards between Bell, Bronson Hill and Darius Jackson, with Jackson recording the tying touchdown from a yard out. Hill finished with 19 carries for 114 yards while Jackson received 17 carries for 73 yards and the one touchdown.
The defense stepped up on the next drive, forcing Morgan State to go three-and-out and forcing a punt. Nathan Adams blocked the punt and proceeded to return the blocked kick for a 1 yard touchdown.
It was the first time EMU blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown on the same play since 1996.
“The blocked punt was a huge play.” Coach Creighton said. “It is always very good for a football team whenever you can have a score on special teams or defense.”
Special teams came up big for EMU on the next Morgan State drive, blocking a 41 yard Ricky Fisk field goal to hold the 14-7 lead.
EMU drove 76 yards on 12 plays on the ensuing drive to take a 21-7 lead, capped by a Ryan Brumfield 16 yard touchdown run.
After a pair of good stops from the defense, the walls seemed to crack again at the end of the first half. The Eagles allowed Morgan State back in the game on the next drive with a 46 yard touchdown screen pass from quarterback Robert Council to Brown III on third down and three. The Bears then tied the game at 21 on their next drive with a 34 yard pass from Council to Landen Malbrough with 55 seconds remaining in the half.
The second half saw little difference midway through the third quarter, with Morgan State wide receiver Thomas Martin running behind the EMU secondary for an easy 75 yard touchdown pass to give the Bears a 28-21 lead at the 5:30 mark in the third quarter.
The second half also saw a change at quarterback from EMU, with Brogan Roback replacing Bell due to an injury.
“Reggie was taken out due to a minor injury.” Creighton said. “We started going with Brogan, and he was performing well enough so decided to keep with him for the rest of the game.”
Creighton said that Bell was available to return, but decided to stay with Roback for remainder of the game. He said Bell is likely to start next week in Florida.
Roback on his second drive under center led the Eagles on an 11 play drive where Roback was 4-for-5 passing, including three completions to wide receiver Dustin Creel. Brumfield finished the drive with his second touchdown of the game – this one from 15 yards out – to end the game at 28.
A nine-play drive on EMU’s next possession led to a 42 yard field goal from kicker Dylan Mulder gave the Eagles the lead at 31-28.
About five minutes later is when lightning began to strike, causing the game to delay for 57 minutes. When play resumed, Morgan State had a drive going near midfield, until defensive lineman Pat O’Connor forced what looked to be a fumble by Brown III, but was ruled as runner down by contact. After an official review, it was deemed Brown III did indeed fumble, and EMU forced the first turnover of the game with 5:21 remaining.
“It was like a flash,” O’Connor said. “Me and (LB Great) Ibe were closing to make the tackle, and I was able to get the football out of the back’s arm.”
O’Connor finished as EMU’s leading defender, recording five tackles, three for loss, 1.5 sacks, and the forced fumble and recovery.
Instead of slowing down the offense and running out the clock, EMU opted to stay with the high tempo offense. This strategy backfired when Mulder missed a 27-yard field goal with 2:48 remaining, giving Morgan State one last chance.
The Bears were able to drive the ball on the ensuing possession to the EMU 38 and ran the clock to four seconds left to attempt a game tying 55-yard field goal. A false start from the Bears pushed the attempt back. Morgan State still attempted despite being 60 yards back. The try failed, ending the game with the EMU victory.
“That was a very good game, we had a tough time of it, but luckily we pulled it out.” Creighton said. “You can’t win them all unless you win the first game, so this is a great start.”
The Eagles will now travel to Gainesville, FL to play the Florida Gators. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.
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