Temperatures were in the 50s, the wind was blowing and it rained all game long. But if you ask Ball State head coach Mike Neu, none of that determined the outcome of the Cardinals’ (4-4, 3-1 MAC) 34-21 loss to Ohio (4-4, 3-1 MAC) Saturday.
“The elements were the elements. We knew that,” Neu said. “Everybody’s dealt the same hand. We didn’t handle that as well as we needed to today to go out and get a win.”
Graduate student running back Walter Fletcher said the weather was on the team’s radar throughout the week, so the Cardinals came into the game knowing it was going to be a run-heavy contest.
That quickly became evident as Ball State only attempted five passes in the entire first half — none of them were completed. When junior running back Caleb Huntley came out of the game with an ankle injury during the team’s second drive of the game, the Cardinals needed someone to step up.
Fletcher was that someone.
“We felt very strongly about [Fletcher] all along ever since he arrived,” Neu said. “It was good to see him shoulder the load today once Caleb went down … It was good to see Walt step in and make the most of his opportunities.”
Fletcher only carried the ball 14 times, but just like Neu said, he made the most of them, averaging more than 11 yards a carry and totaling 156 yards. Fletcher had five rushes of 10 or more yards, and his day was highlighted by a 73-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive to answer a Bobcat score in the third quarter.
“I approach every game like I’m the starter,” Fletcher said. “When [Huntley] went down, it was unfortunate. I just wanted to help my team win in any way possible, so I went out there and gave everything I could.
The only problem with Fletcher scoring so quickly on that possession was it put Ball State’s defense right back on the field — somewhere Neu said it spent way too much time. The Bobcats’ offense was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the game, largely due to the play of quarterback Nathan Rourke.
While Rourke naturally leads Ohio through the air, he also is his team’s leading rusher on the season. He was no different Saturday, throwing for 131 yards and running for another 127.
“When you watch Ohio on tape, you know you’re going to see speed option. You know you’re going to see the quarterback run the ball,” Neu said. “My hat’s off to him for executing that at a high level. That’s just what they do, and they’ve been really good at it.”
This game ended the Cardinals’ three-game win streak and put both teams at 3-1 in Mid-American Conference play — Ball State atop the MAC West and Ohio first in the MAC East. If both teams continue to play at this level during the second half of their conference schedules, fans could see a rematch in December.
“It doesn’t get any easier. Every week is a championship-type of game, championship-type of performance that is required from your football team in order to take care of business,” Neu said. “We’re going to stick together, we’re going to take it on the chin, we’re going to handle it the right way and we’ll be back ready to go to work and be just as hungry tomorrow.”
Ball State has a bye week before its next game against Western Michigan in a battle of the MAC’s top two offenses.