It's possible that no one in Scheumann Stadium was expecting to get the game that they did on Saturday afternoon. The Chips and Cardinals battled through thrilling second half and the visiting team escaped with a 23-21 victory.
It didn't take long for quarterback Cooper Rush to make a difference for Central Michigan. The Junior found Corey Willis on a slant for a fifteen yard score early in the first quarter to push the away team our to a 7-0 lead. Rush connected early with each of this receivers and developed a good rhythm throughout the afternoon.
Following a three and out from the on Ball State's first handle of the ball, Central Michigan's second possession provided an odd twist to the first quarter. Ball State safety Aaron Taylor was ejected from the game following a targeting call after making late, helmet-first contact with Cooper Rush with 11:48 remaining in the first quarter. After the penalty, Rush and tailback Martez Walker led CMU to the red-zone, only to see the drive stall, resulting in a 29-yard Brian Eavey field goal to push the Chippewa lead to 10-0.
The first positive for Ball State came with 2:49 remaining in the first on Central Michigan's third possession, as linebacker Sean Wiggins stripped Central Michigan tailback Jay Roberson and recovered the fumble giving Ball State its first good field position of the matchup. Riley Neal used his legs and his arm to deliver on the resulting possession. The freshman scrambled for a first down and then found Freshman wide receiver Corey Lacanaria for a 22-yard touchdown on the last play of the first quarter to bring the Cards within three, 10-7.
After a stagnant, punt-filled first half of the second quarter, a bit of craziness ensued. A long James Gilbert carry sparked a quality Ball State drive, including four consecutive plays in which the Ball State coaches either didn't know what down it was, or didn't care. It was fourth and short nearing the red-zone, and the BSU coaching staff either thought it was third down, or they were just feeling a tad crazy. Gilbert then converted the fourth and short, before Riley Neal fumbled on the next play. Central Michigan's Kavon Frazier recovered, and then the Chippewas proceeded to go three and out. Ball State took over with 1:41 remaining, and Riley Neal used five consecutive completions, including an impressive over-the-defender catch by Jordan Williams and a juggling grab from Corey Lacanaria to lead the Cardinals down to the Central Michigan one yard line. After an incompletion on second down, a pass-interference call on third, and another incompletion on the ensuing first down play, Pete Lembo rolled the dice. It payed off. James Gilbert scored from one yard out on the final play of the first half. Morgan Hagee's extra point gave the Cardinals 14-10 lead at the break after a wild last three minutes of the first half.
The Chippewas looked like they were in business after a Ball State punt to open the second half. Martez Walker's 33 yard scamper put the Chips into BSU territory, then two straight penalties and a sack forced a punt. Punt, punt, punt we went until Cooper Rush found his groove. A nine-play, 56 yard drive including five straight completions from Rush ended in a four yard touchdown pass to Jesse Kroll, giving Central Michigan a 17-14 lead with 4:33 left to play in the third.
It was a major struggle for the Ball State offense throughout the third quarter. No points. No first downs. A 17-14 lead was taken into the fourth by Central Michigan.
The first drive of the fourth quarter belonged to the Chips, and Brian Eavey connected from 47 yards out on a field goal to extend the CMU lead to 20-14 with 10:37 remaining. The 47 yard boot was a career long for the junior kicker.
Then Momentum walked into the Scheu. On the ensuing kickoff KeVonn Mabon hit the gas and scored Ball State's first kickoff return touchdown in over 5(!) calendar years. Number 16 took the kick at the eleven and streamed 89 yards down the right sideline to give Ball State a 21-20 lead with 10:24 to play.
It's all but confirmed that Cooper Rush personally escorted Momentum out of the stadium just moments later. Two screen passes sandwiched a long throw to the left as Central Michigan marched into Ball State territory. After surrendering two third down conversions, the Cardinal defense forced Brian Eavey back into a field goal try. The kicker was true once more and Central Michigan's lead was back in place, 23-21, with 5:30 to go. The Cardinals saw fourth and two at midfield with 3:30 to play and Corey Lacanaria was back after taking the handoff before getting drilled a yard shy of the marker by Chippewa Tyree Waller. Central Michigan took over and proceeded to gain a first down. On the next play, Rush rolled right and targeted wideout Anthony Rice, who dragged a foot and picked up another crucial first down for the Chips.
THEN IT HAPPENED AGAIN. The ensuing pass from Rush was juggled and then intercepted as Ball State safety Dedrick Cromartie ripped the ball from the arms of the Central Michigan receiver. Ball State took over and Neal hit Lacanaria twice in three plays to move the ball out to the 32. After an incompletion, Neal fired over the middle and Jordan Williams snagged what seemed to be an impossible catch out of the air. With the ball to the 40 and the clocked stopped by a Ball State timeout, the Cards faced second and fourteen. A short completion and an incompletion later, 4th and nine loomed. Neal was unable to find Chris Shillings down the right sideline and Scheumann Stadium was quick to silence.
Central Michigan eliminated the remaining time, and defeated the Cardinals 23-21.
Ball State quarterback Riley Neal finished 25/40 with 187 yards and a touchdown. James Gilbert led the Cardinals with 55 yards rushing on 11 carries, and found the endzone once. KeVonn Mabon returned four kickoffs for 137 yards and one score.
Central Michigan's Cooper Rush passed for 316 yards and two scores. Rush was 30/38 en route to those numbers and also threw one interception. CMU kicker Brian Eavey was 3/3 including the game winning field goal with 4:43 to play.
Central Michigan improves to 4-4 on the season with a 3-1 record within the MAC. The Chippewas will travel to Akron next week.
Ball State falls to 2-6, 1-3 and will host UMass next Saturday.