In a game where Ball State (1-3, 0-0 MAC) had more total yardage and first downs than NC State (3-1, 0-0 ACC), it was the Wolfpack that took a 34-23 victory in front of a sold-out crowd in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“The effort is fantastic by our guys,” head coach Mike Neu said. “The heart and all that stuff is good. Each guy knows that we just have a few things — a few plays that obviously we need to make in order to have a chance to change that outcome.”
The first quarter saw the Cardinals refuse to back down to their Atlantic Coast Conference opponent. Defensively, Ball State held NC State to a pair of field goals. Offensively, the Cardinals were able to establish both their passing and running game.
Redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt came into Saturday third in the nation in passing yards and touchdowns. In the game’s opening drive, he showed why. Plitt completed all six of his pass attempts for a total of 36 yards. The team was stymied once it got past midfield, and it couldn’t convert on a fourth down try.
Ball State’s second possession was about mixing up the rushing attack. Junior running back Caleb Huntley was the pacemaker, gaining 20 yards on the drive. After a 14-yard end-around by senior receiver Malik Dunner and a couple Huntley runs, junior receiver Justin Hall weaved through the defense for an 11-yard score.
The Cardinals ended the first quarter with a 7-6 lead.
NC State took control of the second quarter, outscoring Ball State, 14-0. The Wolfpack also dominated the time of possession. They took nearly nine and a half minutes off the clock during their four drives in the quarter.
Ball State’s offense couldn’t get anything going in the second frame as it turned the ball over on downs once and punted three times. The struggles the end the half sent the Cardinals into the locker room down 20-7.
“Going into halftime with obviously the momentum not in our favor,” Neu said.
The Cardinals were able to move the ball offensively for the majority of the second half, gaining 13 first downs. They also held NC State to just one score in each of the last two quarters.
“I though our defense in the second half was fantastic,” Neu said. “Really proud of the effort of the defense in the second half.”
However, adversity seemed to hit at the wrong times.
Ball State sopped the Wolfpack on a fourth down try, inheriting a short field of 42 yards. The Cardinals had to settle for a field goal.
Junior safety Bryce Cosby intercepted a pass early in the fourth quarter, putting Ball State at its own 48-yard line. Plitt was sacked on the next play, which led to a punt three plays later. To make matters worse, the punt was blocked, and the Wolfpack returned it right in front of the end zone to the 7-yard line, leading to a touchdown.
After a Huntley touchdown put the Cardinals down 11 with just under five minutes to play, the team recovered an onside kick. Ball State marched downfield inside NC State’s 20-yard line, but a pass was intercepted in the end zone, and the Wolfpack ran out the clock from there.
“Obviously, we had a couple opportunities there that we needed to finish the deal, and we didn’t get that done,” Neu said. “We got a bye week now, which comes at a good time … We’re going to get back to Muncie, we’re going to look at this film, get ourselves healthy, and we’ve got two weeks to prepare for our first conference game.”
Ball State is off until Oct. 5 when it visits defending Mid-American Conference Champion Northern Illinois.