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For E.M.U., Happiness Is a First Win

It’s been quite some time for Eastern Michigan: the program’s last win came on Nov. 28, 2008, when the Eagles upset Central Michigan in Ypsilanti. That victory, the last of the Jeff Genyk era, had been followed by 18 consecutive defeats — the program’s first 18 games under former Michigan assistant Ron English. It seemed, at least through the first half, that Saturday’s game against Ball State would go the same way.

The Cardinals held a 7-0 first quarter lead; 14-0, 21-0 and 28-7 leads in the second quarter; and a 28-14 halftime lead, thanks to the biggest play of the game: a 73-yard scoring pass from E.M.U. quarterback Alex Gillett to tight end Garrett Hoskins. If English does turn this thing around, we’ll look at the deep touchdown as the moment things began to click for the Eagles.

Down by 14 points entering the second half, E.M.U. quickly evened the score: running back Corey Welsh had a one-yard rushing touchdown, cutting the score to 28-21; and Ben Thayer — remember this name — caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Gillett to tie the score at 28-28 entering the fourth quarter.

The Eagles even took the lead in the final quarter, thanks to a Gillett touchdown run, only to have Ball State tie the game at 35-35 with less than a minute remaining. What would be more heartbreaking for E.M.U.: if the Eagles had been blown out by Ball State, as we believed early, or if the Eagles had stormed back only to lose in overtime?

Happily for English and E.M.U., we’ll never know: after a Ball State field goal to start overtime, Gillett found Thayer — the above highlight — for a game-winning 12-yard touchdown pass. Jubilation ensued.

Happiness for English and Eastern Michigan is a first win, even if the season holds no hope for a bowl trip. However, E.M.U. has already improved upon its 2009 win total — the Eagles went 0-12 a season ago. Unfortunately, the remaining schedule is unkind: at Virginia, Western Michigan and Buffalo; home for Toledo and Northern Illinois.

Forget the remaining schedule, forget the previous 18 games. Let’s just give a hand to Ron English and Eastern Michigan — in the win column, finally. It’s tough to ignore the 1-18 mark since the start of the 2009 season, but let’s give it a shot. Now, English has to attempt the unthinkable: a winning streak.

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