Slow starts have doomed the Ball State football team all season, and the trend continued against Massachusetts.
The Cardinals fell behind 7-0 just 1:02 into the game and never recovered, falling 24-10 to the Minutemen on the road.
Even more brutal for the team, the loss eliminates it from bowl contention. The loss drops Ball State to 3-7, and teams need a minimum of six wins to be bowl eligible. Ball State has just two games left.
Ball State’s offense struggled to put together drives throughout the game, ending with 68 total plays to Massachusetts’ 84.
“That was one of the goals coming in was to try and stay balanced,” Ball State head coach Pete Lembo said. “Try to stay on the field as much as possible to help out the defense.”
Massachusetts quarterback Blake Frohnapfel started the game off with a 61-yard pass to Tajae Sharpe, moving the ball to the Ball State three-yard line. Shadrach Abrokwah took the handoff to the left and slid into the end zone for the first score.
Ball State quickly responded, with quarterback Jack Milas moving his team downfield using completions to Chris Shillings, Jahwan Edwards, Sam Brunner and KeVonn Mabon. It was capped off with a 33-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to Jordan Williams, who streaked into the end zone to tie the game.
Then the mistakes came.
Dedrick Cromartie intercepted Frohnapfel, and Milas fumbled a snap inside the red zone, recovered by Massachusetts. Frohnapfel fired another interception, this one to Avery Bailey.
The Minutemen later tacked on a touchdown off a one-yard run from Lorenzo Woodley, before Mabon fumbled the ball away and was carted to the locker room with an injury.
Massachusetts added a field goal heading into halftime, leading 17-7.
Sharpe started the second half off with a 40-yard reception, setting the record for most receiving yards in a Mid-American Conference game this season. He finished with 239 yards, while Frohnapfel had 424 yards passing.
“I looked out there and I saw [redshirt sophomore cornerback] Tyree Holder was the only guy in the secondary that we started the year with,” Lembo said. “That’s just where we’re at right now”
Taking over on the Ball State 44-yard line after a punt, Edwards and Milas picked up consecutive first downs on fourth and short situations. Scott Secor added a field goal to cut the lead to 17-10.
Milas finished the game with 210 yards and one touchdown.
Early in the fourth quarter, Massachusetts began pushing the ball downfield, culminating with a missed field goal, maintaining a one-score game.
With Ball State starting to drive, Milas was picked off by Trey Seals, another of Ball State’s costly mistakes on the night. Elgin Long took a snap from the wildcat formation for a touchdown, extending the Massachusetts lead to 24-10.
“I thought our defense played extremely hard, got us some stops,” Lembo said. “We were pretty good on third down. But we can’t afford to move the ball and turn it over down in the red zone.”
Ball State falls to 2-4 in MAC play.