Ball State (0-2, 0-1 MAC) lost in its home opener at Scheumann Stadium 30-37 to Western Michigan (1-1, 1-0 MAC) Sept. 10 in what was not only its first home game of the 2022 season but its first Mid-American Conference (MAC) opponent.
“[It was a] tough loss there, that is what the Mid-American Conference is all about, the last three years [there] have been 15 one-possession games,” head coach Mike Neu said. "Obviously it was a one-possession game today. You have to give credit to Western Michigan. They made some critical plays in situations down the stretch and we did not.”
On the first possession, a Ball State fumble put Western Michigan on the Ball State 33-yard line, setting them up for an eventual touchdown from senior running back La'Darius Jefferson.
The Cardinals’ struggled to stop Jefferson for most of the contest as the Mississippi native would go on to have 18 carries, 67 yards and three touchdowns on the outing, as well as a two-point conversion.
After a week one loss in Tennessee, the Cardinals planned to bring more pep in their step on offense to face the Broncos.
“That is something we want to do,” Neu said. “Last week certainly was tough drawing out assignments. That is what they [Tennessee] do. They played with such high tempo last week, but we've been working tempo, [in] spring ball, we’ve been working tempo [in] training camp. We’re going to do it the whole game for four quarters because we have personnel groups that we’d like to change in and out."
The high-tempo offense came straight out of the gates in Ball State's second possession, capped off with a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Yo’Heinz Tyler from redshirt junior quarterback John Paddock to tie the game at 7-7 with nine minutes left in the first quarter. Paddock was making his start in front of a home crowd, throwing for 291 yards and two touchdowns on 23-39 completions.
The second quarter would bring six straight punts. Although special teams were prevalent, the last 2:43 of the second quarter would yield two field goals by Ball State and a touchdown by Western Michigan to leave it 16-14 in favor of the Cardinals at the half.
Kicker Ben VonGunten was perfect on the day making all three field goals and extra points. VonGunten made his field goals from 20, 44 and 47 yards respectively.
Two minutes into the third quarter, the Broncos fumbled a Ball State punt and gave the Cardinals’ the ball on Western Michigan's 40-yard-line. The following drive would be finished off with a rushing touchdown from sophomore running back Carson Steele– it was Steele's first of the season and seventh of his career.
Although Ball States’ offense was able to move well, the day was riddled with penalties from both sides of the ball.
“We have little mistakes, coming out there we had good points at times,” Steele said. “Finishing drives was one of our big things, we kicked a couple of field goals, [where] we should have had those points for touchdowns but like I said, fixing up the little things [and] getting guys where they need to be.”
Steele led the team in rushing yards with 147 yards, 26 carries and one touchdown.
At the end of the third quarter, Ball State led 23-21.
Western Michigan started the scoring in the fourth with freshman quarterback Jack Salopek finding wide receiver Corey Crooms for a touchdown on the very first play of the quarter. Western Michigan went for two off of a trick play where Salopek caught the pass in the endzone, putting the Broncos up 23-29.
The Cardinals responded with a 39-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Amir Abdul-Rahman, who made a one-handed grab before racing up the sideline and into the endzone to put the home team up by one.
Senior cornerback Amechi Uzodinma II made an interception to give the ball back to Ball State with 9:45 left to go but the offense would start on their own eight-yard line due to a blindside block penalty during the interception.
“Obviously it is unfortunate, but I mean I feel like if you put us in that position again, obviously you don't want a penalty, but I still have confidence in our offense,” Uzodimna said.
With 7:33 left, Western Michigan running back Sean Tyler broke free for a 60-yard touchdown, giving the lead back to the Broncos, 30-37 with Jefferson converting the two-point try.
A turnover on downs from the Cardinals would spell the end of their game as the Broncos ran out the clock.
Ball State takes the field at Scheumann Stadium again next week, facing non-conference opponent Murray State (0-1, 0-0 OVC) Sept. 17 at 2 p.m.