Ball State (4-4, 2-2 MAC) welcomed its reigning 2020 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Co-Defensive Player of the Year and All-MAC First team selection redshirt senior inside linebacker Brandon Martin back to action in its 24-17 loss against Miami-Ohio (4-4, 3-1 MAC) Oct. 23.
As the Cardinals ran onto the field in front of 15,703 fans at Scheumann Stadium, Martin looked up at the spectators to take in an occasion he was unsure if he would see again earlier in the season.
“It was a really good moment for me,” Martin said. “There was time I didn't know if I was able to come back and be able to play for this team. Being able to be out there, back with my guys, I just wanted to embrace that moment, just wanted to take the extra time to do that.”
Martin, who missed the last six games with a lower leg injury after leaving Ball State’s home opener against Western Illinois Sept. 2, thanked his locker room for the support they showed him during his injury rehab.
“My teammates have been huge throughout this whole process for me,” Martin said. “Those guys having my back just motivates me, even more, to come in here every day and try to be the best that I can.”
The Cardinals fell to the Redhawks in the Red Bird Rivalry for the second consecutive season, and also had their three-game winning streak end.
“Certainly it's disappointing right now in terms of the game, obviously it's tough to lose a turnover battle,” head coach Mike Neu said. “We've been so good at that certainly in the last three weeks. We've won the turnover battle and so we lose [this] turnover battle and certainly had some untimely penalties.”
The Cardinals committed six penalties for a total of 68 yards, as well as fumbled the ball twice against the Redhawks, one resulting in a loss of possession. With 3:44 left in the third quarter, a hold denied junior wide receiver Jayshon Jackson of a touchdown to put Ball State ahead two possessions.
“We have the hold on the Jayson touchdown there,” Neu said. “That’s not part of what we are. Those are things that don’t typically show up for us.”
Trailing late in the fourth quarter, redshirt fifth-year quarterback Drew Plitt led Ball State down the field completing three passes for 36 yards, while redshirt senior runningback Will Jones rushed for 13 yards on two carries. Despite the offense beginning to flow, Plitt threw a game-losing interception to Miami redshirt junior safety Sterling Weatherford.
“Obviously that’s part of the quarterback position,” Neu said. “I didn't have a super great angle at it but obviously, 21 [Weatherford] made a play… [Plitt] understands what it's like and so he’s got to build the backup and he's got a bounce back, get himself ready to go.”
Jackson reiterated the Cardinals will stay supportive of each other through the ebbs and flows of the season.
“The message [going forward] is ‘we got your back no matter what happens,’” Jackson said. "Nothing changes, just keep doing what we’re doing, got to execute a lot more and a lot better.”
Jackson finished the game with eight receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown, but Martin said the Cardinals need to take into account the defensive errors in close games.
“When it comes to these penalties, it’s about being disciplined, when it gets down to it, you’ve got to be disciplined,” Martin said. “Especially in some of these critical situations. Because every play the game is on the line and that's the kind of approach that we take. We can't have these types of penalties. It was a detriment to us today. At the end of the day, we didn't play as well as we should.”
Martin played sparingly against the Redhawks, but the linebacker said he understood the plan implemented from defensive coordinator Tyler Stockton.
“Obviously you want to be in the game to try to help your teammates, but Coach Stockton and the whole staff made a really good plan for me to be able to come in and try to make an impact on the game,” Martin said. “It felt really, really good to be back in there with the guys and just try to make those available plays.”
Martin and the Cardinals return to the field Nov. 2 against Akron (2-6, 1-3 MAC). Kickoff is TBA.