The temperature may have cooled down Saturday, but redshirt junior Riley Neal did not as he was the offensive driving force for Ball State against Western Kentucky.
Neal performed a flawless first quarter despite ultimately falling to the Hilltoppers, 28-20. After a short defensive presence, the Cardinal offense took the field on its own 20-yard line. Neal soon went 7 for 7 for 68 yards to lead the Cardinals to the first score of the game.
Although the score came from a one-yard rush from junior Malik Dunner, it was Neal’s arm that marched the Cardinals 68 of the total 80 yards down the field.
“It was good so see [Neal] make some big plays, especially the way he started the game,” head coach Mike Neu said. “I thought he did a nice job of getting off to a good start.”
Once Neal and the offense got the ball back, he completed his next two passes to close out the first quarter a perfect 9 for 9 for a total of 92 yards.
One of Neal’s favorite targets of the day was redshirt senior Corey Lacanaria. Lacanaria had a career day with nine receptions, one resulting in a touchdown, spanning 99 yards for the game. However, 54 of the 99 total yards for Lacanaria came in the first quarter.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” redshirt senior receiver Corey Lacanaria said. “I think it was one of his best throwing performances. Specifically, when he threw it to me, it was on the money every time.”
Western Kentucky was able to limit the Cardinals’ running game, so the pressure was on Neal to deliver through the air. He did just that by connecting with redshirt junior Riley Miller for a total of 112 yards. Miller led the Cardinals in receiving yards in the game.
“[Neal] made a ton of plays,” said Miller. “Throwing the ball, running the ball and just being on the field in general was big.”
The game featured a total of 21 penalties, resulting in 220 penalty yards collectively. The Cardinals committed 11 of those penalties. However, one pass interference call on the Hilltoppers kept the Cardinals in the game.
Neal and his offense were stuck in a third-and-25 situation on their own 31-yard line. Neal’s pass to sophomore receiver Justin Hall fell incomplete and drew a penalty from defensive back Dionte Ruffin. This led to the Cardinals marching down the field and hitting a field goal to put Ball State ahead by three points.
Although penalties proved to be a problem for the Cardinals, Neal stayed true and delivered a quality performance.
“Riley Neal is a stud,” said Neu. “We just have to do whatever we can to clean up some of our penalties today to make sure that it doesn’t put him in a tough situation.”
Even though the Cardinals ended up falling to the Hilltoppers, the game was within one score the entire time. While Neal’s performance was highlighted, all the pieces did not fall into place.
Neal’s passing display was good enough to pass his own coach on the Ball State all-time passing yards list. Neu was third on the list, but after Neal completed a 10-yard pass to Miller for a first down, he dropped to fourth.
Neal finished the day with 285 yards through the air as well as 28 on the ground.
Mid-American Conference play will begin for the Cardinals at home against Kent State next weekend.
Contact Drew Pierce with comments at or on Twitter @dpierce3cc.