Ball State Football (4-4, 2-2 Mid-American Conference (MAC)) head coach Mike Neu held his head low walking into his post game press conference to address the media. With his hat pulled down almost covering his eyes and frequently looking down at the podium, Neu was short and to the point.
“Disappointing, disappointing, disappointing,” he said.
Heading into their Homecoming week matchup against Eastern Michigan (5-3, 2-2 MAC), the ‘Cardiac Cardinals’ had won three straight games, all come from behind victories. The Eagles put that streak to an end with a 20-16 victory over the Cardinals that once again came down to the final quarter.
“You just can’t put yourself in those situations that often,” Ball State junior linebacker Clayton Coll said. “If you’re gonna put yourself in a bad situation in the fourth quarter, eventually it’s not going to pay off for you. You can say you’re a fourth quarter team, but at some point you have to put four complete quarters together, we gotta come out fast and finish strong, we can’t really rely on one or the other.”
Coll finished the game with eight total tackles and a sack. Coll said he believes the Cardinals just needed to “cut loose and go play”. Penalties, critical situations and critical turnovers are what Coll said cost the Cardinals the game against a team he believes they should have defeated.
Something was different than the weeks previous in this contest. Seemingly every opportunity that came Ball State’s way was left untapped.
“Not really very many positives to be honest with you,” Neu said. “...we didn’t play well enough, to be honest with you. From an offensive standpoint, putting 16 points on the board, turning the ball over [three times compared to the Eagles’ 0], [it] can’t happen.”
Though sophomore running back Carson Steele finished the game with 159 total yards for the Cardinals, 102 rushing and 57 receiving, Neu said the offense has to improve.
“We don’t have a choice,” Neu said. “We’ve got a four game season left here, we’ve got a couple extra days to dive into it, but we have to play better. We have to execute at a higher level, we have to come out with a sense of urgency, we have to sustain drives, we have to score touchdowns. We didn’t get that done today, that falls squarely on me, that will get fixed.”
The Cardinals turned the ball over three times, each time within 30 yards of the end zone. First, it was a botched snap in the second quarter leading to the ball getting away from redshirt junior quarterback John Paddock, a fumble eventually recovered by the Eagles.
Later in the second quarter, Paddock tried to force a pass into a narrow gap, only for the ball to be tipped high into the air and intercepted by sophomore Eastern Michigan defensive back Quentavius Scandrett. Finally, with 10:21 left in the game, Eagles senior defensive back Robert Daniel Jr. intercepted a Paddock pass, leading to an Eastern Michigan touchdown less than three minutes later.
Redshirt freshman tight end Brady Hunt, who finished the game with three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown, seemingly summed up the thoughts of all of the Cardinals following the loss.
“We gotta be more consistent,” Hunt said. “Two turnovers in the red zone is tough, we gotta be able to capitalize when we get opportunities. We’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot sometimes and it’s just things you gotta learn from.”
The Cardinals and Eagles opened up the contest at a stalemate, 0-0 after the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, Paddock, who finished the game with 178 yards passing, found Steele for an eight yard receiving touchdown.
Soon after, Eastern Michigan struck back, eventually leading 10-7 at halftime. In the third quarter, Ball State outscored the Eagles 9-0, only for Eastern Michigan to turn the tables in the fourth and put up 10 points on the Cardinals and allow zero.
It was that see-saw effect that defined the game.
The Eagles offensive time of possession ended up being 37:09, almost 15 more minutes than the Cardinals. While Coll said it didn’t feel like an abnormal amount of time to be on the field, Neu wasn’t as tolerant.
“Can’t ask them to do that,” Neu said. “Obviously having the possession the way it was, we were on the field for 81 snaps and we only had 60 on the offensive side of the ball. The offense put them in a bad position, disappointing, really disappointing.”
That said, Coll acknowledged that the Cardinal defense missed some opportunities of their own, particularly multiple failed chances to secure turnovers.
“I dropped a pick, Nic [Jones] had a chance at a pick,” Coll said. “My dropped pick led to John throwing a pick late in [the second quarter], they had a fumble down on the goal line that we should’ve grabbed… I think it just happens in a football game and we have to capitalize on them, we have to find a way to get to those balls, we gotta find a way to get the offense the ball in good situations.”
15,698 fans were in attendance for Ball State’s Homecoming contest, the largest attendance at Scheumann Stadium of the season, adding on to the somber nature of the loss. Neu thanked the fans and Coll did too, adding it “sucked” to let them down.
Hunt, a Muncie native, was particularly grateful.
“It’s tough,” Hunt said. “Being from Muncie, great crowd, we like to feed off of that and they were into it the whole game, but unfortunately we weren’t able to get them a win. It was good to see those people out here, and hopefully they’ll come back for our last home game later this year.”
Moving forward, Coll said he hopes the offense and defense can help each other out more when the opposite side is struggling.
“I think one of the things that, from my perspective, I would love to see is for the offense and defense to play more complementary football,” Coll said. “I think our offense is great, I think our defense is great, and I think we’re struggling at times when we shouldn’t. It would be great for if John is struggling or if we can’t get Carson going, the defense goes out there, makes a play and gives them the ball right back. And vice versa.”
Additionally, Coll wants to see the Cardinals continue to roll with the punches as they are still a .500 team and there are four regular season games left.
“I think guys just need to continue to buy in,” Coll said. “It’s a long season, never know what could happen in MAC football, especially when we get to the MACtion weeks. Just have faith, have faith one-by-one if we can win games it’s gonna turn out good for us.”
The Cardinals return to action Tuesday, Nov. 1, against Kent State (3-5, 2-2 MAC) in Kent, Ohio, in the first of four “Midweek MACtion” games.