DETROIT (WOOD) — The heads hung low as the Central Michigan football team walked through the dark and quiet tunnel of Ford Field.
Kalil Pimpleton, the former Muskegon High School football member, was determined to win his first championship in Detroit after coming up short twice in high school.
As tears fell from his face, with the arms of his teammates draped over him, Pimpleton made his way to the locker room with another chance slipping from his fingers.
CMU (8-5) was defeated by Miami (OH) (8-5) in the Mid-American Conference Championship game 26-21. The Chippewas fell short of their ultimate goal.
Yet even through the pain of the loss, Pimpleton picked his head up. He couldn’t be prouder to be a Chippewa.
“From going to 1-11 to being MAC West Champs, I couldn’t be more proud of (my team),” Pimpleton said. “The work we put in, the coaching staff getting us to where we are at. It’s tough that we couldn’t get the big prize, but we’ll be back.”
For the Chippewas, momentum couldn’t have flipped any faster against them to start the game. RedHawks’ kick returner Maurice Thomas went 97 yards, knifing past defenders to the CMU three. A pair of plays later and Jaylon Bester was in the end zone from a yard out.
The game would slow down for both sides, with neither side being able string together multiple first downs. Then as the first quarter moved into the second, CMU was moving the ball into Miami territory.
This time the Chippewas didn’t miss, and Tommy Lazzaro made sure of it.
After faking the hand off, Lazzaro rolled out to his left and gave a hard fake on the pass. Everyone in the building thought the ball left his hands. Meanwhile, Lazzaro scooted up a wide open seam with only green and the end zone in front of him. The 21-yard rushing score tied the game at seven all with 11:46 left in the half.
The RedHawks would answer. McElwain chose a fake punt from his own 19 that got stuffed. CMU’s defense stood tall and forced a field goal, making it 10-7 Miami.
The Chippewas would then take the ball deep into Miami territory, led by Muskegon native Kalil Pimpleton. The sophomore took a punt 31 yards into Miami territory. Then, on a third and five, received a pitch for a reverse where he wanted to pass, but instead used his quick legs to get the first down.
Then, Dormady made his best play of the afternoon.
The graduate transfer took the snap and slowly moved to his right while reading the defense. There were no openings, so he kept rolling until Tyrone Scott slipped in front of the coverage. Dormady tossed it on the run towards his slot man.
Right on the money.
CMU took a 14-10 lead into the locker room shortly after that play. However, the Chippewa defense played arguably their best half of football this season. CMU held the RedHawks to 61 total yards on 26 plays, only allowed three first downs and forced a key field goal on a short field.
In the second half, the RedHawks turned the tide in a hurry. Miami quarterback Brett Gabbert hit James Maye on a dime after he got behind CMU defenders for 35 yards. Then, on a bubble screen, Gabbert flipped it to Jack Sorenson for a 31-yard touchdown as he ran past CMU defenders. Just like that, CMU needed a response as the RedHawks pulled momentum back in their favor.
The Chippewas just never got it.
CMU’s offense was stopped time and time again, with every offensive possession in the second half being stopped by a penalty or turnover. Dormady’s fourth-quarter interception was large as CMU was driving deep into Miami territory.
Then, instead of a sack on the next possession for the RedHawks offense, Troy Brown was called for targeting. The Chippewas leading tackler was ejected from the game and it gave Miami a key 15 yards. The drive ended in a 48-yard field goal, which put Miami up by nine points with four minutes and change remaining.
“It is what it is. It’s a part of football,” McElwain said. “Let me tell you something, Troy Brown is one heck of a football player, and I’m glad he will be with us for a couple more years.”
As for the season itself, McElwain couldn’t have been prouder of his team and what they accomplished to this point.
“As I told the guys in the locker room, I’ve probably never been more proud of a group of players in my coaching career,” McElwain said. “What they have set themselves up to do is short of amazing. Obviously, we didn’t finish like we would like to, but at the end of the day, let’s be proud of it and to be Chippewas.”
The first-year head coach led the team to the biggest turnaround record-wise in all of Division I college football. From 1-11 to the MAC title game, what McElwain and his staff accomplished speaks for itself.
At the end of the presser, McElwain was asked if he would be still around to coach the bowl game.
He gave a big smile.
“Absolutely,” McElwain responded. “We’re going to find out tomorrow. We got a team meeting at 4:30 because we figure we should know by then.”
There is still work to do for McElwain, Pimpleton and the CMU football team.