FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (CMU Athletics) - Central Michigan reached .500 and gained bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2009 season with a 42-21 win over UMass (1-11, 1-7 MAC) on Friday at Gillette Stadium.
Junior running back Zurlon Tipton powered the Chippewas to their sixth win of the season, rushing for 185 yards on 25 carries, his sixth consecutive 100-yard game, and four touchdowns. With 20 touchdowns for the season, Tipton is tied for first on the CMU single season rushing list.
Back-to-back CMU touchdowns in the span of 33 seconds late in the third quarter and two second half interceptions proved to key to the game’s outcome.
Central Michigan (6-6, 4-4 MAC) answered a second half opening UMass scoring drive, using primarily the legs of Tipton to knot the game at 21-21. Tipton rushed for 57 yards on the key scoring drive, finishing it off with a three-yard scamper. Senior safety Jahleel Addae then intercepted UMass quarterback A.J. Doyle two plays into the Minutemen’s ensuing possession and returned it to the nine-yard line. One play later, Tipton slipped his way to the end zone for his third touchdown of the game, pushing CMU ahead, 28-21.
The momentum continued to swing CMU’s way on UMass’ next drive, as junior safety Avery Cunningham intercepted Doyle and returned it to the Minutemen 32-yard line. Freshman running back Saylor Lavallii earned the Chippewas their third two-touchdown lead at 35-21 when he plunged in from the six-yard line for his second touchdown on the ground in as many games.
Tipton would then put the game safely away with a 61-yard scoring dash midway through the fourth quarter.
After the Chippewa defense forced a turnover on downs near midfield early on UMass opening possession of the game, Tipton quickly got CMU on the scoreboard with a one-yard touchdown run, capping a 10-play, 48-yard drive.
The CMU defense stopped the ensuing UMass drive, setting up the Chippewas at their own 23-yard line. Thanks in part to a heavy dose of Tipton, Central Michigan moved the ball down to the Minutemen five-yard line where Radcliff connected with tight end Connor Odykirk for a touchdown, upping its lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter. The receiving touchdown was Odykirk’s second in two weeks.
UMass cut the CMU lead in half at 14-7 when, following a Radcliff interception deep in Chippewa territory by safety Darren Thellen, running back Michael Cox dove in from one-yard out with 9:23 remaining the first half.
Later in the second quarter, UMass looked to be driving for a game-tying score but sophomore cornerback Jason Wilson picked off Minutemen quarterback A.J. Doyle in the end zone. The interception was Wilson’s second of the year. However, CMU could not move the ball and was forced to punt.
UMass was the recipient of some good fortune on the ensuing drive when a third down pass by Doyle looked to be incomplete but was deflected by one Minutemen receiver to another. Jordan Broadnax advanced the ball to the CMU eight-yard line and two plays later the game was tied at 14-14 when Doyle found tight end Rob Blanchflower open in the end zone for the score just before halftime.
Should Central Michigan receive a postseason invitation, it would be the Chippewas’ seventh bowl appearance since gaining Division I status. CMU has previously appeared in the California Raisin Bowl (1990), the Las Vegas Bowl (1994), the Motor City Bowl (2006, 2007, 2008), and the GMAC Bowl (2010), posting a 2-4 record.