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Recap: Ball State stuffs Western Michigan 2-point conversion to win 42-41 in OT

Cardinals escape in a thriller in Muncie for their first win over the Broncos since 2013.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tensions were high, and a critical decision awaited. Western Michigan head coach called a timeout before continuing to go forward with a bold decision.

After quarterback Kaleb Eleby faked a handoff and scrambled into the end zone in overtime, the Broncos were out for blood. Kicking the extra point wasn’t an option — they wanted to win. The team regrouped and took the turf at Scheumann Stadium following the timeout. Eleby took the snap in shotgun, handed the ball to his running back LeVante Bellamy, and instances later, the play combusted.

Bellamy was stuffed by Ball State at the line of scrimmage on the up-the-gut run, due largely in part to the Cardinals stacking the box. The result was a deflating overtime loss for Western Michigan (6-5) and an ecstatic victory for Ball State (4-7), by the score of 42-41.

For the first time since 2013, the Cardinals knocked off the Broncos, just one year after falling victim to a 55-3 defeat.

The Tuesday night thriller featured a duel between two offensive players’ brilliant performances. For Ball State, backup quarterback Drew Plitt played the game of his life. The sophomore completed 21-of-26 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns. He exhibited pinpoint accuracy throughout the evening, despite throwing two interceptions.

Plitt’s top three wide receivers — Justin Hall, Riley Miller, and senior Corey Lacanaria — combined for 18 receptions, 273 yards, and two touchdowns, with each one bringing his own unique performance to the evening.

Western Michigan’s offense featured the dominant senior running back LeVante Bellamy. The MAC’s leading rusher finished with a career-high 213 yards on 35 carries, scoring a game-tying touchdown in the third quarter. Although stopped short on the questionable play call to finish the night, Bellamy’s performance should be one to remember back in Kalamazoo.

Ball State struck first on the scoreboard with a Plitt touchdown pass to Miller in the middle of the end zone. In a back-and-forth game, Western Michigan scored the next two touchdowns by way of Jamauri Bogan. Bogan, the MAC leader in rushing touchdowns, earned 105 yards on 25 carries, finishing with his team’s first two scores.

The second of two scores resulted from a 20-yard interception return, a favorable momentum shift for Western Michigan. Prior to Plitt’s first interception, the Cardinals were on the verge of claiming a two-score lead over their bowl eligible opponent. Nevertheless, Ball State rebounded with two consecutive touchdowns of its own to grab a 21-14 lead.

The first score was delivered from Plitt to Lacanaria in the end zone for an acrobatic, SportsCenter Top 10-type catch. Bellamy fumbled to allow the Cardinals to regain favorable field position, further contributing to the Broncos’ recent fumbling issues. Ball State capitalized thanks to veteran halfback James Gilbert. The longtime back sprinted 17 yards to the house to reserve Ball State another advantage.

Gilbert would open up scoring duties for Ball State in the second half, as well. Although the rushing attack was essentially a non-factor in moving down the field (limited to 67 yards and 2.4 yards per carry), Gilbert bulldozed for a 12-yard carry to jump out to a 28-17 lead.

A Gavin Peddie field goal later, the Broncos found themselves down eight, and in scoring position. With first and goal at the four, Tim Lester elected to hand the ball to Bogan on four-straight plays, with limited progress. On fourth down, Bogan was stopped well behind the line of scrimmage by a horde of Ball State defenders.

The Ball State triumph was short-lived. Plitt attacked deep down field on the following play, and Western Michigan corralled an interception on the Ball State 40. Essentially, the Broncos earned a redo of the drive that finished inside the Cardinals’ 5. This time, points weren’t left on the board.

Bellamy scored the touchdown, and tight end Giovanni Ricci tied the score at 28 by catching a shovel pass and using full effort to reach past the goal line for two points.

With Justin Hall boosting the following Ball State drive, the Cardinals added to the shootout with a 12-yard, untouched run from Malik Dunner. The Broncos matched with a quick drive, finishing with a Kaleb Eleby screen pass to Ricci to fight off a Ball State blitz. Ricci utilized a strong wide receiver block to find a clear path into the end zone along the left sideline. With the score tied at 35, the defenses dominated for the final three minutes, and overtime was forced.

In Ball State’s first overtime matchup since a home win over Western Michigan in 2012, Mike Neu elected to go bold. On the first play of overtime, Ball State ran a reverse to Riley Miller who found his co-wide receiver Corey Lacanaria for a 24-yard gain down to the 1. Two plays later, Drew Plitt countered Western Michigan’s goal line defense with a jump pass to his open target in the end zone.

Western Michigan required five plays to reach pay dirt, propelled by a 13-yard reception by Keishawn Watson. However, Lester decided to aim for the win after Eleby’s 1-yard touchdown run, and that gamble did not pay its dividends.

The inability to convert the two-point conversion extends Western Michigan’s losing streak to three. The Broncos are now out of MAC title contention, regardless of what happens against Northern Illinois in Kalamazoo. In two seasons, Tim Lester is 11-5 in games 1-8, but 1-6 in games 6-9. Both seasons, he’s lost quarterback Jon Wassink for the final stretch of the season, but Eleby performed up to standard with a 20-of-29 passing night.

Ball State serves as the first opponent with a current losing record to defeat the Broncos this season. With six wins, Western Michigan must return home to defeat Northern Illinois, or else the Broncos could be on the fence for a bowl selection. Last year’s 6-6 slumping Broncos were denied a bid into the postseason, and the team is hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

For Ball State, this is the team’s first November win since November 28, 2014. The Cardinals have struggled in the final month of the season in the Mike Neu era. Despite prior elimination from bowl contention, this Senior Night win remains vital to Cardinals’ faithful and the players who battled in their last go-around at Scheumann Stadium.