It took more than four quarters, but 83 points, four ties and two lead changes later, Ball State (4-7, 3-4 MAC) came away with a 42-41 win over Western Michigan (6-5, 4-3 MAC) on senior night.
“No matter what you do in your football career, you always remember your last one,” head coach Mike Neu said. “I’m not sure if there’s any better way for these guys to have their last one here at Scheumann Stadium.”
The Cardinals got the scoring started with a 22-yard touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore Drew Plitt to redshirt junior Riley Miller, marking the fifth straight game Miller found himself in the end zone.
Western Michigan answered on the following possession on a drive that heavily featured Jamauri Bogan. After breaking a run for 31 yards, Bogan extended the drive with a 13-yard scamper on fourth down. He would subsequently punch it into the end zone to tie the game seconds before the end of the first quarter.
On the Cardinals’ first drive of the second quarter, Plitt threw just his second incompletion of the game, a pass that fell into the hands of Bronco defensive back Juwan Dowels. It looked as though Western Michigan’s time with the ball would be short, but a roughing the kicker penalty on the Cardinals kept the drive alive. The Broncos took advantage of their second chance as Bogan scored his second touchdown of the game, and Western Michigan took the lead.
Ball State wasted no time knotting up the score. Plitt connected with sophomore Justin Hall on a screen pass, and Hall did the rest, turning a short gain into a 61-yard play to set the Cardinals up at the 5-yard line. Three plays later, redshirt senior Corey Lacanaria leaped for a touchdown grab in the front right corner of the end zone.
“I don’t know about a better way to go out than that,” Lacanaria said. “I’m glad I got to contribute to the kind of night that we had.”
The Cardinals kept it rolling on defense, recovering a fumble to put them at the Broncos’ 27. The next offensive possession only took two plays. Plitt found Hall for 10 yards, and redshirt junior James Gilbert broke a tackle and took it the final 17 yards for the score.
Western Michigan tacked on a field goal right before the half to trim the deficit to 21-17. This was the most points scored in the first half by the Cardinals and the first time they led at halftime since week five against Kent State.
“The whole game, I was just looking at the pulse on the sideline,” Neu said. “Everybody was good. Everybody was locked in. Everybody was in a great situation. Everybody as soon as something happened was like, ‘We got to respond…’ Just proud of those guys for doing that and showing a lot of mental toughness in critical moments during that game.”
The Cardinals extended their lead on another touchdown run by Gilbert after taking over on downs to start the third quarter. The Broncos again added a field goal before what would be an exciting fourth quarter.
For the second time in three possessions, the Broncos failed to convert on fourth down. However, Ball State would give it right back, as Dowels came away with his second interception of the game. Western Michigan took advantage of good field position, and LeVante Bellamy finished off the possession in the end zone after rushing for 33 yards on the drive.
Each team scored again the next time they got the ball, making it a 35-35 contest. With 11 seconds left in regulation, the Cardinals opted to take a knee to run out the clock. This led to Ball State’s first overtime game since Oct. 13, 2012, against Western Michigan, a game the Cardinals won, 30-24.
The Cardinals got the ball first in the extra period. They made quick work of it, scoring on just three plays, two of which featured some trickery. Lacanaria completed a 24-yard pass on a reverse play, and two plays later Plitt dumped a jump pass into the end zone to force Western Michigan to score a touchdown to match.
The Broncos scored on five plays, but they took a gamble and went for two to try to win. Having already made two stops on fourth down including one at the goal line, sophomore safety Bryce Cosby, who had 17 tackles, said the defense was ready to rise to the occasion.
“I got excited,” Cosby said. “We had a chance to end the game right then and there. I felt confident in our defense all game.”
The Cardinal defense blew up the line of scrimmage and stopped Bellamy in the backfield, giving Ball State a 42-41 win on senior night. Neu described what was going through his mind after the final play.
“I don’t even care about my headset right now. I’m just sprinting straight on the field, and I’m diving on whoever I can get to,” Neu said. “I just wanted to find those guys… joy, excitement and a lot of emotions for those ten guys that I knew were taking that field for the last time.”
The Cardinals will play their last game of the season Tuesday, Nov. 20 at Miami of Ohio.