Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Tavion Woodard got his first two career sacks in two consecutive plays.
Freshman running back Carson Steele scored his first career touchdown.
Junior cornerback Nic Jones picked up his first career interception.
Redshirt senior Jake Chanove kicked his first career field goal.
It was also the first game of the season for Ball State Football (1-0). There were a lot of firsts for the Cardinals in their 31-21 win against Western Illinois. Head Coach Mike Neu said he knows the importance of younger players stepping up.
“It’s very important,” Neu said. “When you play a season of football, injuries are going to happen. They work really hard in the offseason, the young players work really hard in the weight room, they work really hard on the practice field. and it's good to see those guys capitalize when they got some snaps in the game. We're fortunate to have good depth here and to see with some of those guys step up and deliver in different situations and critical moments.”
The first of the milestones came late in the second quarter when Woodard picked up the Cardinals' first sack of the season. The next play he came around the edge, and as he was falling, his hand got a piece of the Leathernecks’ quarterback’s jersey and brought him down.
“It was a great moment,” Woodard said. “My hands were fiery off the ball. I just wanted to play fast and play hard. I want to thank my teammates because they kept telling me to keep going and keep getting after it.”
Woodard got a lot of experience on the scout team in previous seasons and Neu credits that and his hard work for his success Thursday night.
“He was a winner in high school,” Neu said. “When he showed up here, he knew how to practice. He was physically ready to go. He put up some very impressive numbers in the weight room once he arrived here on campus. He showed and earned the respect of his teammates on the practice field with how hard he was running.”
With 2:33 left in the third quarter, Western Illinois quarterback Connor Sampson threw a pass right into the hands of Jones for his first career interception.
“Nic Jones is a talented guy,” Neu said. He’s got great skills, great change of direction, great speed and great corner skills. It is great to see him make a play there in a critical situation toward the end of the game.”
Early in the third quarter, Steele was given the ball, ran down the middle through a defender and made his way through the endzone, giving the Cardinals a two-possession lead.
“Carson [Steele] is a big back,” fifth-year senior Justin Hall said. “I feel like he is going to have a great career here at Ball State, and I can’t wait to see him run that ball. He hits that hole so hard. There are a lot of guys in the backfield who are going to make plays for us.”