The Ball State Cardinals run onto the field at the beginning of the home opener game against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 17 in Scheumann Stadium. Ball State heads to Illinois Saturday looking for its eighth consecutive season-opening victory. Grace Ramey, DN
Ball State football's offense dominates in spring game
On a day when all other Ball State outdoor athletics were called off, a light, steady rain couldn’t keep Ball State football off the field for its annual offense versus defense spring scrimmage Saturday.
The offense came out with a bang on its first drive as redshirt junior Riley Neal completed a pass over the middle to redshirt senior Corey Lacanaria for a 24-yard gain. A couple plays later, the two connected again for a 24-yard touchdown. Neal found Lacanaria a few more times later in the first half, and Lacanaria quickly emerged as Neal’s favorite target of the day.
“Obviously, I like to get the ball to [Lacanaria],” Neal said. “We didn’t really game plan to get the ball to anyone in particular. That’s just kind of how it shook out.”
Saturday was the first time Neal has performed in a game-like situation since week three of last season. Head coach Mike Neu said Neal has had a great spring, and that led to his solid performance in the scrimmage.
“He’s doing such a good job of making quick decisions,” Neu said. “Once you have something taken away from you, you appreciate it that much more, and that’s one thing you can definitely see from Riley.”
Lacanaria finished the game as the Ball State's leading receiver with eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. He was also injured for most of last year and said the way his year ended convinced him to come back for a second senior season.
The real surprise on offense was the play of sophomore running back Markice Hurt Jr. Not listed as a top three back on the depth chart, Hurt led the rushing attack with 62 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. He also added a 19-yard scramble on fourth down early in the first half.
“I feel like me making a statement was setting myself apart, just not living in anybody else’s shadow and showing them that I can do something too,” said Hurt.
Ball State’s offense went into the half up 31-3 over the defense. The defense only allowed two touchdowns on the day, but Neu admitted the scrimmage scoring system wasn’t designed in favor of the defense.
“You try to come up with a scoring system that might work itself out,” Neu said. “That’s hard, so that’s on me. I think the most important thing is you didn’t see sloppy play. … We’ve had days that have gone back and forth here – the defense has won one day, offense the next, and that’s what you want to see.”
As the rain died down,the defense tightened up in the second half, only allowing a pair of field goals as mostly second and third-stringers finished out the game. Senior placekicker Morgan Hagee hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the offense a 37-5 victory.
There was plenty of trash talk to go around throughout the entirety of the game. Lacanaria said the team likes to compete, but it’s still a brotherhood when it’s all said and done.
“We’ve been holding in a lot of aggression during the spring practices, so it’s finally good to let it all out,” Lacanaria said. “It’s all love though. At the end of the day, it’s all love out there.”
Neu said he doesn’t mind the trash talk within the team, but what’s important is remaining a family and a team in the end.
“Between the white lines when we’re practicing, we got to get after each other. That’s the only way we’re going to get better,” Neu said. “I don’t mind when guys chirp with each other and get after each other in a friendly way, but when we walk off the field, we’re a family, and we got to love each other. We got to make sure we exit the building all on the same team.”
Ball State has two more practices left on its spring schedule before it heads into summer workouts. They will be in action again Thursday, Aug. 30 at Scheumann Stadium against Central Connecticut State.