Eastern Michigan football team falls just short against Army, 31-27
There was no electricity in the air Saturday night at Rynearson Stadium, and not because the power went out early at Eastern Michigan’s football stadium.
That’s because Army drove 72 yards in the final three minutes to secure a 31-27 victory over the Eagles. The season-opening loss was the 13th in a row for Eastern, which lost all 12 games last season in Ron English’s first year as head coach. “I like winning, and this is humbling,” said English, a former defensive coordinator under Lloyd Carr at Michigan. “I know that we are making progress. What I have to focus on is continuing to get these guys to believe in the staff, and each other, and the wins will come. ... We just got to get a win to get this thing going.
“It does eat at you a little bit, especially when you’ve been doing this as long as I have. Not winning is hard. It’s brutal.”
And the way the Eagles lost was brutal. After trailing by 10 points in the third quarter, sophomore quarterback Alex Gillett threw a 10-yard pass to a wide-open Ben Thayer in the left side of the end zone to complete a comeback from 10 points down and give the Eagles a 27-24 lead with 2:59 to play.
The Eagles, behind the running of Gillett (126 yards and a touchdown) and senior Dwayne Priest (142 yards, two touchdowns) were poised to end that losing streak.
But Army marched down the field - 72 yards on eight plays - and scored on Jared Hassin’s 7-yard run, his third touchdown of the night, with 38 seconds remaining.
“We had our chances to win the game, and we didn’t get a stop when we needed to at the end,” English said. “We didn’t take enough time off the clock, but in that situation the scoring was the most important thing.”
But there was still some fight in the Eagles. After the kickoff, Gillett rushed twice for 21 yards to get the ball near midfield. Gillett then threw deep to Tyrone Burke, who drew a pass interference play with three seconds to play.
With time for one play from the Army 32, Gillett scrambled right and then threw a desperation pass out of the back of the end zone to end the game.
While English took no solace in losing the game, there was progress made, he said. The Eagles rushed for 285 yards. The yards nearly matched Army’s 309, but the Black Knights have nearly perfected their triple-option offense and are usually among the nation’s top rushing teams (16th in 2009).
So good was the Eagles’ run attack Saturday that Gillett needed to throw just nine passes, completing four for 31 yards to go along with one interception. English said there is nothing wrong with Eastern’s passing game.
“We had success running it. That dictated us not throwing if we didn’t have to,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to throw the ball. We’ve shown that in practice. That isn’t a big issue, and we’d probably like to throw it more next week if the game dictates it.”
Eastern was fortunate to have a chance at victory. The teams were tied 14-14 at halftime. The first half was delayed for 10 minutes early in the second quarter when a transformer blew and the lights on the west side of the stadium went out, along with the scoreboard.
The rest of the game was played under dim lights on one side, no scoreboard - although a tiny, auxiliary scoreboard was later placed in the northeast corner of the stadium - no public address system and no microphone from the referee.
That made for an unusual game and unusual setting.
“I did have to direct some traffic out there,” English said, “I had to call some timeouts, and I had to work with the clock without seeing that and those types of things. So that part was fun.”
What wasn’t fun was the way Army opened the second half with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was culminated with Patrick Mealy’s 11-yard run. On the ensuing kickoff, Eastern fumbled the ball back to Army, who took over on EMU’s 32-yard line. The Eagles’ defense stiffened and held the Black Knights to a field goal, but trailed by 10 points, setting the stage for a comeback, but not an end to a frustrating losing streak.
Dave Holzman can be reached at email@example.com