BY CORY STACE | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
Ball State’s Offense Clicking Early
After Ball State’s defense held the Chippewas’ offense to only three points on their first possession, the Cardinals struck back with a efficient drive of their own.
The Cardinals marched down Kelly/Shorts field 77 yards on 14 plays that included four third-down conversions. Ball State went on top for the first time after a James Gilbert 13-yard touchdown burst made it 7-3.
Ball State nickeled-and-dimed the Central Michigan defense on the drive, with only two plays going for 10-or-more yard gains including the Gilbert touchdown.
Gilbert slipped two separate Central Michigan defenders on his way to his seventh touchdown of the year at the time.
Central Michigan Catches Ball State Sleeping
Central Michigan responded with a touchdown drive giving the Chippewas a three-point lead with 32 seconds left in the first half.
Ball State was unable to drive late giving Central Michigan the ball on the Chippewas 22-yard line to start of their drive.
Just as everyone was starting to get out of their seats anticipating halftime, the Chippewas gave Devon Spalding a chance to run on a draw play that ended up gashing the Cardinals for 63 yards up the middle.
The big gainer pushed the Chippewas all the way down to the Ball State 15-yard line. Cooper Rush spiked the ball to give the Chippewas time for three more plays with no timeouts left.
Rush and the CMU offense capitalized with a 15-yard touchdown strike to Corey Willis putting the Chippewas ahead 17-7.
With the big running gain, Central Michigan entered halftime with a two-possession lead, and the Chippewas received the ball to start the second half.
The True Freshman Proving Something
Although the Chippewas were able to capitalize to end the half, they could not take advantage of receiving the ball first to start the second half.
Central Michigan went three-and-out on its first two drives giving Ball State a chance to get right back in the game.
On the Cardinals’ second possession, they were given good field position receiving the ball at their own 40-yard line to start the drive.
Mainly the rushing attack marched the Cardinals down to the 3-yard line to set up Damon Hazelton Jr. with his moment to shine.
Riley Neal threw a fade route to the back left corner of the end zone as Hazelton Jr. leaped over his defender, Amari Coleman, to make the 3-yard touchdown snag to cut the lead to 17-14.
The play was originally ruled incomplete, but upon further review the officials ruled Hazelton Jr. did tap his feet in the end zone as well as maintain possession of the football for the true freshman’s second touchdown of his career.
Pick Six Grabs Momentum
Momentum was pointed the Cardinals’ way heading into their first possession of the fourth quarter as the defense had given up zero points on four straight Central Michigan drives in the second half.
With 13:56 remaining the fourth quarter, Neal, on a designed rollout right, targeted Kevon Mabon on a 10-yard out route to the sideline. The throw was off target 15 yards down the field into the hands of Josh Cox, cornerback for Central Michigan, who returned the interception 33 yards to the house.
The pick six once again gave Central Michigan a two-possession lead, 24-14, with 13:45 left in the game.
Ball State Not Going Away
Down two possessions, the Cardinals didn’t panic with still plenty of time on the clock. Ball State got back to its bread and butter running the football.
Central Michigan had relatively held the running game in check until Gilbert and the Cardinals drove down the field with a 6-play, 75-yard drive in just over two minutes. Five out of the six plays on the drive were rushes from both Gilbert and Teddy Williamson
The drive included a 47-yard scamper down the sideline by Gilbert to set the Cardinals in good field position. Gilbert rested for two plays before recording his eighth touchdown on the year with a 1-yard dive.
Another Costly Turnover
Ball State’s defense held the Chippewas on two more drives before the Cardinals were able to get the ball back with 2:12 and a chance to win the game.
Aaron Hepp, a redshirt senior wide receiver, emerged down the stretch with two critical first down catches to put Ball State in position with 1:43 remaining at the Central Michigan 29-yard line.
On the first play after a Ball State timeout, Neal took a shot deep down the left sideline to Hazelton Jr. for what would have been a 29-yard go ahead touchdown. Instead the ball was under thrown and intercepted by Coleman in the end zone.
Hazelton Jr. had Coleman beat by about two strides on the go route, but Neal wasn’t able to get enough power on the ball. Coleman made a great play recovering back to his man to make the leaping interception and sealing CMU’s victory.
With the interception, Central Michigan captured the 24-21 win, marking the third straight game between these two teams ending in three-point victory or less.