Ball State’s quarterback Riley Neal makes a touchdown during the home opener game against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 17 in Scheumann Stadium for Family Weekend. Ball State won 41-14. Grace Ramey // DN
Homecoming 'special' for Neu, who led 1993 record-breaking comeback
There have been a number of close Homecoming football games in Ball State's past, but the 1993 game set a number of records that still stand to this day.
To say the Cardinals fell in an early hole is an understatement. Toledo scored on five of its first eight possessions and jumped out to a 30-3 lead at Scheumann Stadium. But behind a quarterback by the name of Mike Neu, Ball State stormed back with 28 straight points and scored a touchdown as time expired for a 31-30 victory — still the largest comeback in Ball State history.
Neu threw for 469 yards and a 98-yard touchdown in that game, both records that haven't been topped since.
Akron vs. Ball State
Time: 3 p.m.
Date: Oct. 22
Place: Scheumann Stadium
"Obviously, a special moment while I was here at Ball State," Neu said. "Just to continue to fight. It kind of reminds me of our football team right now. ... For us, that was a big moment. I firmly believe that sent us in the right direction to win the Mid-American Conference championship that year. It just showed we always had each other's back, no matter what the conditions were or how adverse the situation was."
Ball State (4-3) will take on Akron (4-3) Saturday in Neu's first Homecoming as a head coach. Similar to 1993, the Cardinals are seeking a signature MAC win in order to gain traction toward their postseason aspirations.
"Our guys know we are in a must-win situation," Neu said. "We're 1-2 in the MAC, and we need to get to 2-2. If we have dreams and goals to be Mid-American Conference champions, we have to win 'em all. And this is the next one on the list."
Neu called last week's game at Buffalo a must-win also, and his team delivered. Ball State fell behind 14-7 at halftime, but James Gilbert's big second half led the Cardinals to 24 unanswered points and a 31-21 win.
Akron is on the other end of the spectrum, as it suffered a 41-0 home loss to No. 20 Western Michigan last weekend. The Zips are still on top of the MAC East Division, however, with a 2-1 conference record.
"It's a good football team, and a program that's been headed in the right direction," Neu said. "Coach [Terry] Bowden has done a great job there, and let me tell you something, they have big play potential. ... They're a team that's going to challenge you, but we've had a great week of preparation."
The Zips' strength lies in their passing game. It appears starting quarterback Thomas Woodson is ready to return from injury. He's thrown for 1,247 yards, 13 touchdowns and only four picks in five games this season.
Woodson has the MAC's top receiving duo at his disposal. Wideouts Jojo Natson and Jerome Lane have combined for 74 catches, 1,089 yards and 10 touchdowns. It's a nice complement of size and speed, Neu said, and limiting the big plays will be key if Ball State is to win.
Another key for the Cardinals will be getting off to a better start, and that begins with sophomore quarterback Riley Neal. Akron is second-to-last in the MAC with 280.4 passing yards allowed per game, but Ball State's signal-caller has had his fair share of struggles lately, as well.
"They've got some good players, some good [defensive backs] and a good pass rush," Neal said. "I think the numbers can be deflated by playing some of those bigger schools."
Ball State and Akron haven't met since the 2014 season, a 35-21 Ball State win. The Cardinals lead the all-time series 11-10-1.
A win on Homecoming could be a turning point for Ball State, one that could set the tone for a happy ending for the rest of the season — just like it did in 1993.
"Sure, it's gonna be special, but there's a game to be played," Neu said. "As many of those guys I can't wait to see, there's a game to win. I'm hoping for a great moment, to get a big win, and have those guys in the locker room singing that fight song after the game."
Ball State and Akron will kick off at 3 p.m.