Ball State was down 17 with less than five minutes to play. It had to go for it on fourth-and-6. The Cardinals (1-2, 0-0 MAC) didn’t make it and turned the ball over to Florida Atlantic (1-2, 0-0 CUSA). It was the Cardinals’ fifth turnover of the day. Three drives and four minutes later, the Owls locked up a 41-31 victory.
“Our guys battled, but you can’t turn the ball over like that no matter what football team you’re playing against and expect to win,” head coach Mike Neu said.
The Cardinals had opportunities, reaching the Owls’ side of the field in 11 of their 16 drives. However, four of their five turnovers took place in enemy territory.
The least timely of them came a split second before a would-be touchdown. With the Cardinals down four in the third quarter, junior running back Caleb Huntley found open space in the red zone. He dove at the goal line as Owl defensemen tackled him, and the ball broke free right before he crossed the plane. Florida Atlantic recovered, and the play resulted in a touchback rather than a touchdown.
“I just had a brain fart. My brain just froze up,” Huntley said. “After that play, it just hurt. Coach told me to shrug it off, and that’s what I tried to do. Ultimately, I feel like had I took care of the ball on that play, the game could have had a different outcome.”
The Owls took advantage of almost every opportunity the Cardinals gave them. After Ball State dropped the ball on a handoff in its second possession of the game, Florida Atlantic scored a touchdown. The Owls also found the end zone after the Cardinals’ two other lost fumbles and a missed field goal.
“Every one of those moments that we had in the game were critical, whether it was a turnover or whether it was a missed opportunity. They’re all critical,” Neu said. “We got to finish drives. That’s the No. 1 goal is to score touchdowns — not to settle for three points or anything like that, and that’s something we work hard at. We got to make sure that we execute and not shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The Cardinals did have their bright spots. Offensively, they still put up 31 points with 470 yards of total offense, just 28 fewer than the Owls. Defensively, redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Williams recovered two fumbles; he took one 60 yards for a touchdown. Ball State also only allowed one score in the fourth quarter when the team was trying to mount a comeback.
“We felt strong throughout the whole game and confident,” Williams said. “Our takeaway from the game is just fixing up the little, small mistakes that just add up.”
Ball State will wrap up non-conference play Saturday, Sept. 21, at NC State. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.