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Football looks to win fourth straight, maintain bowl eligibility against C. Michigan

Coburn Gillies, Assistant Sports Editor

Last weekend, a 28-15 victory over Eastern Michigan University gave Miami University's football team its third straight win heading into Friday night's home tilt against Central Michigan.

CMU arrives at Yager Stadium on a two-game losing streak. Last week, the Chippewas fell just short, 27-24, at home to Kent State.

Despite the losing streak, 'Hawks head coach Chuck Martin still looks at CMU as a dangerous opponent.

"They've been, the last few years, one of the elite teams in our league. Very experienced. Strong, athletic on defense. [They] have a couple seniors inside, up-front that are really good players," Martin said.

The RedHawks are seeking their fourth consecutive victory, a feat that has not been accomplished at Miami since 2010. 2010 was also the last time the 'Hawks won the Mid-American Conference.

MU enters this duel 3-6 overall and 3-2 in MAC play, good enough for sole possession of third place in the East Division due to a tiebreaker with Akron. CMU checks in with a 5-4 record on the year and a 2-3 record in conference competition, putting them in a tie for third place with Eastern Michigan.

Heading into this matchup, the Chippewas are carrying a three-game winning streak against the Red and White dating back to 2012. The last meeting between these two programs saw the 'Hawks fall short 34-27 on the road.

This is the first game of the season for Miami that will not be played on a Saturday. Coach Martin believes that the preparation will not be affected much by the lost day.

"This about a mental preparation of getting ready for a game on Friday. Yesterday, we had our same Sunday routine. We're only tweaking today [Monday] a little bit and we're adding a little bit more today [Tuesday]."

Regardless of the lost day's affect on the amount of time the team has to prepare for CMU, the team is having fun playing football at this point of the season.

"Man, it's been a blast," fifth-year senior defensive end Austin Gearing said. "Obviously the first half of the season didn't go as we planned. We were in every single game, battling just like how we've been these past few weeks. To finally get it turned around, as Coach Martin says, it's been a blast."

Fellow fifth-year senior wide receiver Sam Shisso shared similar sentiments.

"It definitely feels like a long time coming. It's about time. I feel like it's been a great long, hard journey and it's all been worth it."

Along with redshirt junior cornerback Heath Harding, who is coming off a six-tackle, one-interception performance against EMU, expect Gearing to make an impact on the defensive-line against Central Michigan.

The 'Hawks' calling card defense has paced the league in total defense, allowing their opponents an average of only 350 yards-per-game.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland and sophomore wide receiver James Gardner have shined for Miami during its recent win streak. Ragland has gone 3-0 since being named starter while throwing for 571 yards and six touchdowns. Gardner, while out against Eastern Michigan, is the 'Hawks leading receiver with 581 yards and five touchdowns, and is expected to return Friday.

"Gardner's much better. He was close last week, obviously he didn't dress so he wasn't ready to go. We're very optimistic he'll be at, or near, 100% by Friday night," Martin said.

Senior quarterback and captain Cooper Rush has led CMU's pass-heavy offensive this season, throwing for 2533 yards and 21 touchdowns. Junior running back Devon Spalding could also loom large, as he has 652 yards and three touchdowns on the ground this campaign.

"Offensively, obviously led by their senior quarterback [Cooper Rush] who's been one of the top players in this league for the last--at least the last two years, if not three--just a really, really good player and playmaker," Martin said. "Good receiving corps, good running attack, good play action game."

Linebackers sophomore Malik Fountain and senior Nathan Ricketts look to lead the way for the Chippewas' defense. Fountain has 69 tackles, nine for a loss and one forced fumble. Rickett's chipped in with 56 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble of his own.

With bowl eligibility still in play and the RedHawks riding a winning streak, the Red and White are peaking at the right time.

"I think so. Like Coach Martin tells us every week before every game, make sure you're about to play the best game of your life, every game. So we kind of take that approach," Shisso said.

"Like I said, we're not happy yet. We've won three in a row but we still have three more left. So, our goal is to get to a bowl game. We're not done," Gearing said.

Kickoff between Miami and Central Michigan is set for 6:00 p.m. Friday and will air live on CBS Sports Network and ESPN3.