FOOTBALL: Lembo era starts with emotional victory
INDIANAPOLIS – Connor Ryan lined up along the Ball State sideline late in the third quarter and saw the Indiana cornerback creeping toward the line of scrimmage. It was a corner blitz. So Ryan, a sophomore wide receiver, did exactly what he was coached to do.
He yelled back to the Cardinals offensive line and quarterback Keith Wenning, alerting them of another defender to block.
He mentally switched his route on the play from a hitch to a go.
He saw the ball arcing toward him in the back of the end zone and made sure to catch it and keep his feet in bounds.
"Unbelievable pass," Ryan said. "Unbelievable pass."
The touchdown would prove to be the deciding points in Ball State's 27-20 victory – the first of the Pete Lembo era – Saturday night in front of 40,224 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was the Cardinals' second straight win against the Hoosiers and their second ever win against a team from an automatic qualifying BCS conference. The only other time Ball State had accomplished either feat was 2008, when the Cardinals stormed into Bloomington and left with a 42-20 victory.
Safety Sean Baker was on the field for each game. He doesn't know which win was more important, but he knows how they both made him feel.
"It's just a great feeling, emotional high right now," he said.
Halfway through the first quarter, a Cardinals victory barely seemed possible. Indiana had cut through the Ball State defense with ease, ending a 15-play, 76-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run by Matt Perez.
The Cardinals responded with a drive that netted -10 yards and included two penalties and a timeout.
"We were a little geeked up early," Lembo said. "Some of our older guys are really passionate about playing Indiana."
But once Ball State settled into the game, it was able to show off Lembo's new West Coast offense and an experienced defense. Wenning led the team on a pair of touchdown drives and the Cardinals went into halftime trailing 17-14.
The second half belonged to Ball State. After tying the game with a 38-yard field goal by Steven Schott, Wenning once again drove the Cardinals into the Hoosiers red zone. There, he found Ryan in the back of the end zone and Ball State had the lead for the first time in 2011.
Schott added another field goal with 2:16 left in the fourth quarter, giving Ball State the insurance it needed. Indiana was able to add a field goal of its own with 59 seconds to play, but its onside kick fell into the hands of Ball State wide receiver Jack Tomlinson. Two knees by Wenning and a few handshakes later, and the Cardinals were singing the fight song with the 5,904 Ball State students who made the trip from Muncie.
"It's huge because this is so much bigger than us as a football team," Ryan said. "This is about the university; this is about [athletic director] Tom Collins giving coach Lembo a shot.
"For those students to come down here to Indianapolis and be here with us for that was awesome. Best experience."