Central Michigan built a 21-0 lead here Saturday and held on for a 24-21 Mid-American Conference win against the University of Akron (1-2, 0-1 MAC) before a sun-drenched crowd of 20,097.
"We feel good about winning a game against a very good football team," CMU head coach Brian Kelly said. "You're going to have to scratch and claw to get a win in this league."
The key play of the game was a NCAA record-tying 100-yard interception return by CMU cornerback Josh Gordy in the final minute of the first half.
With the Chippewas clinging to a 7-0 lead thanks to a Dan LeFevour two-yard touchdown pass to Justin Gardner, Gordy stepped in front of a Luke Getsy pass in the end zone and raced down the western sideline untouched for a 14-0 CMU lead.
Gordy reflected on making the big play, even though his right eye had been almost completely swollen shut from a collision earlier in the game.
"It's alright, I could see well out of the other eye," Gordy said. "We anticipated Akron was going to run some quick slants and I jumped on that one."
The key play almost didn't happen. One play earlier, CMU safety Calvin Hissong had intercepted a Getsy pass at the five-yard line. Following a review though, it was determined that Hissong had been stripped of the ball. Akron was awarded possession at the five with just 23 seconds remaining in the first half.
"The interception was a big lift for us," Kelly said.
The Chippewas (1-2, 1-0 MAC) extended their lead early in the third quarter when fullback Victor Doman bulled his way up the middle from three yards out for a 21-0 CMU lead over the Zips. It was Doman's first career touchdown that capped a 10-play, 86-yard drive.
Akron answered back with a touchdown of its own late in the third quarter to close the gap to 21-7. Getsy connected with Jabari Arthur on a 16-yard strike in the left corner of the end zone. The play was originally ruled incomplete, but upon review, it was determined that Arthur had dragged one foot inbounds and the play was ruled a touchdown.
The Zips added a touchdown midway throught he fourth quarter on a 10-yard pass from Getsy to David Harvey. The extra point attempt sailed wide left though, and CMU held a 21-13 lead.
The Chippewas repsonded with a time consuming 14-play, 71-yard drive of nearly six minutes that led to a Rick Albreski 28-yard field goal and a 24-13 lead with 2:21 remaining.
"A key for us was being able to run the ball on that last drive," Kelly said. "Our will was strong."
As it turned out, the field goal was the margin of victory. Getsy found Harvey alone in the back of the end zone on a 14-yard strike with just 11 seconds remaining. Getsy ran for the two-point conversion to bring the Zips within three points, 24-21.
Akron's onside-kick bounced high and out of bounds though, securing the victory for CMU.
CMU redshirt freshman wide receiver Bryan Anderson caught seven passes for 95 yards, both career highs.
"I thought I played quite well today," Anderson said.
"Anderson is dangerous because he's going to hang on to the football and he's probably the receiver that gets banged around the most, but at 6-4, he's a weapon for us."
LeFevour completed 16-of-23 passes on the day for 162 yards,including the TD pass to Gardner. LeFevour also rushed 10 times for a game-high 67 yards.
Linebacker Doug Kress led the CMU defense with 10 tackles.
The Chippewas play their next three games on the road, beginning next Saturday when they visit rival Eastern Michigan. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Rynearson Stadium. Comcast Local will televise the game live.
Chippewas Hold On to Beat Akron, 24-21
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