Ball State Football (1-0, 0-0 MAC) won its ninth straight home opener Thursday, taking down the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (0-1, 0-0 NEC) in record-breaking fashion.
Things weren’t looking good for the Cardinals early on, as sophomore receiver Justin Hall dropped a wide-open pass in the end zone on their opening drive, forcing them to punt. The defense picked up the slack, making two key third down stops in the first quarter.
The Cardinal defense held CCSU scoreless for the majority of the game. Ball State head coach Mike Neu said his defense took last season’s performance personal and was as excited as anyone to showcase all its hard work.
“That’s a great recipe if we can continue to do that—keep our defense off the field so that when they are out there they’re fresh,” Neu said. “That’s something you always want to do is sustain drives offensively.”
The Cardinals got things rolling in their second drive, marching down the field and capping off the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass from redshirt junior Riley Neal to redshirt sophomore Nolan Givan.
After a CCSU punt to start the second quarter, Neal went back to work. The Cardinals’ first play was a flea flicker, and Neal connected with redshirt senior Corey Lacanaria for a 36-yard gain. Neal would find Hall for two more first downs on the drive before junior Malik Dunner punched it in from 12 yards out.
“It starts with the guys up front,” Neu said. “The credit has to go to the offensive line because those guys give our running backs holes to do what they do.”
CCSU fumbled on the following kick return, spelling how the rest of the night would go for the Blue Devils.
Later in the quarter, the Cardinals increased their lead after another methodical drive right before halftime. The drive was highlighted by a 36-yard run from Dunner and finished by a 16-yard touchdown scramble from Neal. This put the Cardinals up 21-0 at the half.
With 384 total yards of offense in the first half, Ball State had already surpassed its total yards in 10 out of 12 games last season.
“I feel like we’re going in the right direction, and there’s more to come because we can get better,” said redshirt junior running back James Gilbert.
Ball State fumbled the snap on a punt on the opening drive of the second half, and CCSU recovered deep in Cardinal territory. The Cardinals’ defense hanged tough, forcing a field goal attempt that was faked and not converted.
The Cardinals’ next drive lasted only four plays and 58 seconds. Sophomore Caleb Huntley got things started with a rush for six yards followed by a 42-yard run to the Blue Devils’ side of the field. After an incomplete pass, Gilbert accelerated down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown run.
On Gilbert’s rush, Ball State surpassed last year’s top mark for total yards in a game when it racked up 466 yards against Tennessee Tech. While Gilbert led the team in rushing on the night, he highlighted the play of his teammates in the win.
“I like to be a fan for the other running backs to do their thing—cheer them on, help them out too,” Gilbert said. “It’s not all about one guy, but multiple in our offense.”
Sophomore Markice Hurt Jr. provided a spark for the Cardinal offense with an 18-yard rush later in the third quarter. The Cardinals would add to their lead that drive with Neal’s second touchdown toss of the evening. This time he found freshman Yo’Heinz Tyler in the corner of the end zone for his first collegiate score.
Another three-and-out for CCSU brought the third quarter to a close with Ball State in control, 35-0.
The fourth quarter featured Ball State milking the clock and Central Connecticut State continuing to struggle to get anything going offensively.
The Cardinals would pile it on with the reserves in the game, as redshirt sophomore Drew Plitt found Tyler over the middle for a 63-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
For all but 12 seconds of the game, it looked like the Cardinals were headed for a shutout. CCSU’s Aaron Dawson put an end to that with a goal line score just seconds before time expired.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t come up with the goose egg,” said redshirt junior linebacker Jacob White. “I feel like tonight we were bending and not breaking, which is what you want as a defense.”
The extra point was missed for good measure. Ball State took a knee after the kickoff, and the Cardinals checked a week one win off their to-do list, 42-6.
To go along with the blowout, Ball State gained a school-record 652 yards on the day, a record that stood for 40 years. Neal completed 23 of 30 passes for 259 yards and a pair of scores. Gilbert reached triple digit yardage on the ground and Tyler led the receiving core with 83 yards and two touchdowns.
Ball State will head to South Bend next weekend to play Notre Dame Saturday, Sept. 8 at 3:30 p.m.
Contact Zach Piatt with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.