Jack Milas' pass flew outside of his target, and Hilltoppers' cornerback Joe Brown sprinted straight ahead into the end zone to fend off Ball State's comeback effort.
WKU's late pick lifted the Hilltoppers to a 33-21 victory over the Ball State Cardinals in Bowling Green, KY. Ball State led 21-20 with as little as under two minutes left, but a 76-yard drive captained by quarterback Mike White provided the Hilltoppers their 13th consecutive non-conference Group of Five victory.
Several key players sat out for Ball State in the road loss. Senior quarterback Jack Milas, who saw the majority of playing time during his college career in 2014, stepped in for the injured Riley Neal under center. Running back James Gilbert and starting cornerback Marc Walton were among other Cardinals to sit.
Milas completed 18-of-36 passes in the loss for 267 yards. He threw two interceptions, including the costly pick six that sealed the victory for Western Kentucky.
WKU's offense started the night with a purpose. White guided the struggling Hilltopper offense down the field with a touchdown on the opening possession. He eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark for the first time in 2017, earning 317 yards at the cost of two interceptions.
Ball State deadlocked the score at 7-7 several drives later. Milas completed a 41-yard strike to running back Malik Dunner and Caleb Huntley, another tailback, punched the ball in from a yard out.
On the ensuing possession, White tossed the Cardinals a gift in the red zone with the first turnover of the night. The Cardinals failed to take advantage, and WKU would kick a field goal to lead 10-7.
The Hilltoppers would continue the scoring run and extend the lead to two possessions after a short Ball State punt. WKU halfback Marquez Trigg scored a 1-yard touchdown run to rise to a 17-7 lead.
Ball State attempted to answer by delving deep into Hilltopper territory, but Huntley fumbled on a third and short rushing play. WKU recovered right before halftime and led 17-7 at the 30-minute mark.
After the teams traded punts and picks to begin the third quarter, Ball State began its surge. Milas completed several first down passes and Dunner ran for respectable yardage on the 80-yard drive, which concluded in a 5-yard score from Dunner.
Up three points, WKU converted on another short field goal to earn a 20-14 lead in front of its home fans with 14:52 remaining in the fourth quarter. The offenses, under heavy duress by opposing defenses, could not travel anywhere down the field for the majority of the fourth quarter.
But with under seven minutes left, Milas threw for 55 yards to maneuver Ball State down the field. At the WKU four-yard line, Huntley needed just two carries to find the promise land and hand Ball State its first lead of the contest — 21-20.
After a heartbreaking collapse last week at Louisiana Tech, White would shatter another team's hopes with a game-winning drive. White looked as poised as any quarterback in the nation, completing 6-of-6 passes for 67 yards, threading the needle through the Cardinals' secondary. Running back Jaikairi Moses scored the go-ahead touchdown from five yards out with 1:38 remaining. The two-point conversion failed on a screen pass in the end zone, but WKU just needed a defensive stop to improve to 2-2.
And that's exactly what the Hilltoppers did. Milas faced heavy doses of pressure on Ball State's opportunity with the game on the line, but the pressure finally affected his throw on third down. Cornerback Joe Brown didn't even have to move to catch Milas' misfire, and Brown sprinted to the house to make the scoreboard look more lopsided than the game actually was, 33-21.
In a game where quarterbacks and receivers primarily controlled the offenses, there were four collective interceptions thrown. But one of the deciding factors was WKU's third down efficiency, 7-of-14, which comparatively defeated Ball State's mark of 3-of-12.
With the victory, WKU improves to 2-2 after a disappointing start to 2017. The back-to-back C-USA champs earned the spark they needed as conference play enters full gear soon. For Ball State, the Cardinals finish their non-conference slate at 2-2. Ball State remained close in losses to Illinois and WKU and must bring its A-game next week to Kalamazoo in its matchup with Western Michigan.