Let it not be said that Mike Neu and the Ball State Cardinals don’t know how to put on a show for Homecoming. Unfortunately for the fans in attendance, this show didn’t have the happy ending many were hoping for as the Akron Zips stormed back from a fast Ball State start to trump the Cardinals 35-25 on Homecoming in Muncie.
Early, it appeared that Ball State was prepared to make a statement win, perhaps the first in the Mike Neu era, as the stormed out to a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter. After trading touchdowns for a 17-7 Cards’ lead, Akron would blast off 21 straight points for a 28-17 advantage with ten minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
As has been the case in several of his outings, the Ball State comeback fell squarely on the shoulders of QB Riley Neal, who answered the Akron streak with a TD drive of his own, finding Aaron Hepp in the endzone to pull the Cards within three after a successful two point conversion thanks to Neal’s quick feet on a QB scramble.
Akron answered, however, with a 9-play 73 yard drive to stretch the advantage to 35-25 with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Ball State would try to answer, but Riley Neal was intercepted with 45 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Zips.
The story of the game may very well have been Ball State’s defense, or lack thereof. Lauded as one of the most aggressive defenses in the conference, and one of the nation’s best in terms of QB pressures and sacks, the results did not live up to the billing. The Zips’ Thomas Woodson shredded the defense to the tune of 338 yards through the air and didn’t surrender a sack. It was a testament to their resilience, after last week’s 41-0 stomping and this week’s 10-0 start.
Offensively, the Ball State Cardinals again rode James Gilbert to a standout performance, as the sophomore rushed for 133 yards and a TD on 24 carries. Akron’s rushing, paced by Van Edwards Jr. (112 yards, TD), paled in comparison to Ball State’s (256-179) but the Zips were able to keep the Cards’ defense at bay and open up the passing game, which Woodson took full advantage of.
With the win, the Zips (5-3, 3-1 MAC) now sit one win away from bowl eligibility and still atop the MAC East standings, keeping pace with Ohio who did their part with a win today over Kent State. For the Cardinals (4-4, 1-3 MAC), their schedule to bowl eligibility is a difficult one. With four games remaining, the Cards look to be significant underdogs in three of them (WMU, EMU, @TOL) and needing in all likelihood 3 of their final 4 to make the postseason.