By Charles Post / WLAA
There are special teams. And there are special moments. The two came together on Saturday to create a very special finish for the EMU Eagles.
In one of the craziest finishes you’ll ever see – think U-M vs. MSU at the Big House in 2015 – visiting Central Connecticut State held a 29-28 lead with just 18 seconds left in Eastern Michigan’s home opener at Rynearson Stadium. The Blue Devils lined up to punt the ball clinging to the one-point lead and hoping to get out of Ypsilanti with a win despite being huge underdogs coming into the non-league game.
But EMU’s Matthew Sexton had other plans.
Sexton sprinted towards the ball and blocked it, taking it right off the punter’s foot, and then returned it 30 yards for the game-winning score.
“We’ve been practicing it all week,” said Sexton, a senior from Clinton, Mich. “Without everyone on the whole special team, there’s no way it happens. It sets me free and no one touches me. And then it’s just the stuff we practice. Just taking the ball off the foot. How it bounced up right into my hands I don’t know, that’s a blessing from God.”
The blocked punt and score also bounced EMU to a 3-1 record following the 34-29 win over CCS.
The Eagles got off to another slow start as they have allowed the first touchdown in every game thus far. Central Connecticut State marched down the field with a drive of more than 6 minutes, ending with an Arthur Gilmore touchdown. The Blue Devils went for the two-point conversion and got it, leading 8-0.
Eastern Michigan would respond, though, with 48-yard, 25-yard, and 21-yard touchdown passes from Mike Glass III. Arthur Jackson III, Quian Williams, and Hassan Beydoun were the recipients. The Eagles held a 21-15 lead at halftime. Kobie Beltram had a team-high six tackles and a forced fumble at the break.
“I just don’t know that we had a lot of life defensively early,” said EMU head coach Chris Creighton. “We’re going to play hard and everyone is going to do their job. There just wasn’t the energy that’s needed on top of that. One of the ways to change that is making plays and I think that forced fumble was an absolutely huge play. He’s a great leader. I love having him (Beltram) on our team.”
Neither team scored in the third quarter as the drama would be saved for the end. Glass hit Williams in stride for another 21-yard touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, giving the Eagles a 28-15 lead. Immediately after the extra point, the game was delayed because of weather for approximately 50 minutes.
When the players returned to the field, Central Connecticut State came out with much more energy, scoring two touchdowns within a 7-minute span. Keonte Lucas cut into the lead before Tyshaun James sprinted to the end zone on a post route, giving the Blue Devils a one-point advantage.
On the ensuing drive, Glass threw an interception and it seemed like the game was over. However, EMU forced a three-and-out and the Eagles stopped the clock with two timeouts.
And with 18 seconds left, Sexton blocked the punt and returned it for a score, giving EMU their third win of the season. It wasn’t the best outing for the Eagles, who were favored by 33 points coming into the game.
But it still ended up in the win column.
“The better team this Saturday afternoon didn’t necessarily win,” Creighton said. “Hats off to Central Connecticut and the game that they played. I will say it was a weird day. Start late, being here for the first time, and the lightning delay. Thankfully we had two timeouts and we were able to have a few seconds left. And then you block a punt and return it for a TD. It was just crazy.”
The Eagles are off next Saturday as they have their bye week before heading to Mount Pleasant to face rival Central Michigan in the conference opener on Oct. 5.