Wide receiver Damon Hazelton Jr. caught six catches for 54 yards and a touchdown during the game against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 17. Ball State won 41-14. Grace Ramey // DN
Ball State reveals depth at receiver in Week 2 win
Damon Hazelton Jr. wasn't even listed on Ball State's depth chart coming into the game against Eastern Kentucky.
The freshman played a few snaps at Indiana in Week 2 after Ball State fell behind 30-0. But after starting junior receiver Corey Lacanaria was ruled out of Sept. 17's home opener with a shoulder injury, the Cardinals needed Hazelton to step up.
"Of course I was a little bit nervous," Hazelton said after his first career start. "But it wasn't nothing. After that first catch, it all went away. I was good after that."
Ball State receivers — Week 2
Devin Reece — 6 catches, 64 yards, TD
Damon Hazelton Jr. — 6 catches, 52 yards, TD
Jordan Hogue — 6 catches, 35 yards
KeVonn Mabon — 4 catches, 51 yards
Hazelton's first collegiate grab came on the Cardinals' second offensive play, a 9-yard catch and one of three receptions on the opening drive. The true freshman finished with six catches for 54 yards and a touchdown in Ball State's 41-14 win over Eastern Kentucky.
He was one of three receivers who finished with six receptions in the absence of Lacanaria and senior KeVonn Mabon, who exited the game in the second half with an injury.
"I think we have a lot of playmakers at receiver," said quarterback Riley Neal, who threw for 238 yards and two touchdowns in the win. "With Corey being out, next man up is kind of our mentality. It's a pretty deep group out there, so we all fell pretty comfortable."
Neal and the passing game looked more comfortable Sept. 17 than it had all season. He started 16-16 through the air before finally throwing an incompletion midway through the second quarter on a deep ball to Mabon.
His most impressive completion may have been a 5-yard touchdown pass to Hazelton in the right corner of the end zone. Neal zipped it toward Hazelton's back shoulder, threading it between the defender's arms and into the outstretched hands of his receiver.
The pass snuck up on him pretty quick, but Hazelton reacted in time to accomplish one of the goals he set for himself.
"It was big," he said. "It felt good to get in the end zone. That was one of my goals for this game. I knew I was starting ... And I'm happy I did it."
Hazelton wasn't the only receiver to score his first career touchdown against the Colonels. Sophomore Devin Reece scored from three yards out to cap off a 10-play, 73-yard drive that put Ball State up 7-0 early in the first quarter.
Reece led the team with 65 yards in the game. Head coach Mike Neu said he challenged him and junior Jordan Hogue (six catches for 35 yards) in a meeting this week to take the next step.
"Those two guys had a fantastic training camp," Neu said. "And I felt like through two games, they could play better than they had. I thought there was a couple plays they left on the field in previous games. But those guys stepped up to the challenge."
Neu said he would have to "wait and see" on Mabon's status moving forward, but anticipated him being OK and ready for next week. Lacanaria is still day-to-day, for now.
Ball State obviously wants those guys back as soon as possible, Neal said, but Hazelton and the rest of the group established their place on the depth chart with the weekend's performance.
"You'd like to have [Mabon] out there, and you'd like to have [Lacanaria] out there," Neal said. "But if those guys can't go, we feel comfortable with what we have."