Mid-American Conference play is underway. Ball State (2-3, 1-0 MAC) took down Kent State (1-4, 0-1 MAC) 52-24 behind the Cardinals’ hot start on offense.
The Cardinals could not have gotten off to a better start, as redshirt junior Riley Neal connected with redshirt junior Riley Miller for 52 yards on the first play of the game. They would go for it on fourth-and-goal, and junior Malik Dunner found the end zone to strike first.
The touchdown marked the fourth consecutive week Ball State has scored on its first possession of the game.
“I told the guys before we left the hotel to get on the bus, ‘This is the day we turn the corner,’” head coach Mike Neu said. “We got to 1-0 in the MAC. That’s all we wanted to do. That was our goal by the end of today.”
After a Kent State three-and-out, the Cardinals wasted no time extending their lead. Neal found Miller again on the first play of the drive, this time for 24 yards. A few plays later, redshirt junior James Gilbert found himself in the end zone.
Kent State threatened later in the quarter, but hopes were soon diminished after redshirt sophomore linebacker Jaylin Thomas intercepted Woody Barrett’s pass. The Cardinals took advantage of good field position, as Neal’s pass to redshirt senior Corey Lacanaria resulted in another score, extending the Cardinals’ lead to 21-0.
The Cardinal defense bounced back from previous weeks, recording five sacks and three turnovers.
“Coming back today, getting some stops; getting some three-and-outs; getting some turnovers and takeaways; it really brought us around and really helped us build our confidence back.”
The Golden Flashes would eventually get on the board after Barrett connected with Adam Dulka for a 12-yard touchdown.
Kent State shortened the deficit with a field goal to start the second quarter. The Cardinals answered three drives later with a 42-yard touchdown reception from redshirt junior Kyle Schrank.
Each team traded scores once more in their ensuing possessions before the half. Barrett hit Mike Carrigan downfield for 40 yards before Justin Rankin ran it in from 13 yards out. A targeting call set the Cardinals up at the opponent’s 19-yard line. A pass interference in the end zone brought it to the 2, and Gilbert punched it in for his second score of the day.
Neu mentioned the previous teams in attendance for alumni weekend and how his team made those from past years proud.
“We wanted to do it for them,” Neu said. “Our guys took that personal and wanted to make this a memorable day for them. It was a great victory, great team effort by our guys and way to respond to a little bit of adversity”
The Flashes were marching down the field to begin the second half, but a fumble recovered by Ball State erased any thoughts of scoring.
Miller finally reached the end zone later in the third on a 33-yard catch over the middle of the field. He credited his success to the play of Neal.
“He was making a lot of plays on his feet and through the air,” Miller said. “That really just starts everything. If he’s making plays, we have the opportunity to make plays, and that’s what gets us going.”
The Flashes responded with Rankin’s second touchdown run of the game, pushing the score to 42-24.
The fourth quarter saw the Cardinals’ offense extend their lead while their defense held strong, holding the Flashes scoreless.
“I thought the defense did a great job of trying to contain and not give up a big play,” Neu said. “Right there at the end of the game, I thought it was awesome we were able to finish the game after they got a stop, and we were able to finish it off.”
Ball State ate up clock in its first drive of the quarter and came away with a field goal.
The Cardinals’ next possession featured more from the Neal-Miller tandem. On a 32-yard connection, milestones were passed for each of the Rileys. Neal recorded a new career high in passing yards with 402, and Miller became the first Ball State receiver with more than 200 yards since Willie Snead did so in 2012.
“Hopefully it just sparks us a little bit,” Miller said. “Hopefully we can kind of pick up the winning vibe and take that into the weeks ahead.”
The reserves entered the game for Ball State after the score. Neu said he hoped to see the backups get into the end zone, but he was happy with a 52-24 victory.
The Cardinals will host Northern Illinois Saturday, Oct. 6 at 3 p.m. in Scheumann Stadium.
Contact Zach Piatt with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.