Cardinals keep it close, compete with Irish in first ever meeting
Ball State Football (1-1, 0-0 MAC) fell to No. 8 Notre Dame (2-0) 24-16 in its first meeting with the Irish in school history.
“I know without doubt looking at those guys in the locker room and heading off the field that we left everything that we had on the field,” said Ball State head coach Mike Neu.
Notre Dame got things going early with a 42-yard run inside the 10-yard line from Jafar Armstrong. He would punch it in on 3rd and goal for the game’s first touchdown.
The Cardinals responded with a 19-play, 85-yard drive ending in a field goal from senior Morgan Hagee. Redshirt junior quarterback Riley Neal completed six of 11 passes for 67 yards on the drive.
The rest of the quarter saw both defenses step up, as each forced two consecutive three-and-outs.
“Early on they made a couple bang bang big plays,” Neu said. “I thought our defense really responded after that, and they took that personally.”
Notre Dame started the second quarter with a missed field goal and a failed fourth-down conversion in its first two drives.
Junior linebacker Ray Wilborn said Ball State’s defense did a good job keeping Brandon Wimbush in check. The Cardinals had three interceptions and four sacks on the day.
“I think we played well, especially with a dual-threat quarterback,” Wilborn said. “He’s very athletic. Our plan all week was to try to keep him in the pocket. I think we did pretty well with that. I wish we would’ve come out with the win, but I think we did a good job of keeping him contained for the most part.”
The Irish got the momentum back with an interception from Jalen Elliott, the first of his career. They wasted no time converting the turnover into points, as Tony Jones Jr. took a carry 31 yards to the end zone, putting the Irish up 14-3.
The Cardinals got a turnover of their own later in the quarter when redshirt senior Josh Miller picked off a pass from Wimbush. That would result in another Cardinal field goal, inching them closer 14-6. That score held up for the remainder of the half.
Neal came out of the half and threw his second interception of the game. Once again, Elliott came away with the ball.
Wimbush took advantage of good field position and led the Irish downfield for their third score, capped off by a goal line rush from Jones.
Three consecutive Ball State three-and-outs and a Notre Dame field goal later, and the Cardinals found themselves behind 24-6.
The Cardinals finally found the end zone in their first drive of the fourth quarter when Neal connected with redshirt sophomore Nolan Givan from 10 yards out.
Wilborn made a jumping interception on Notre Dame’s ensuing drive. Ball State wound up with a missed 46-yard field goal out of it.
Despite some missed opportunities on offense, Neu was encouraged by the play of his defense.
“You like where [the defense] is at from a mindset standpoint. They bought in 100 percent,” Neu said. “They’re chomping at the bit to put together consistent performances knowing that ultimately, at the end of the day, our offense can be as good as it can possibly be, but defense is what wins championships.”
The Cardinals’ next drive resulted in a made field goal—this one from 49 yards, moving the score to 24-16 with just 90 seconds left in the game.
Ball State tried an onside kick but couldn’t recover. The Cardinals were forced to use up their remaining timeouts, and Notre Dame ran out the clock.
“We’re just going to use this as a push to say nobody can really stop us in the MAC. Nobody can stop us from here on out,” said sophomore receiver Justin Hall.
The Cardinals’ next game is noon Saturday, Sept. 15 at Indiana.
Contact Zach Piatt with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.