Jon Wassink and LeVante Bellamy have been the centerpieces of Western Michigan’s offense for years, so it was only fitting for the seasoned duo to close their careers in Kalamazoo by putting on a show for the Bronco faithful.
Wassink, the 3-year starting quarterback, rushed for a career-high 131 yards and a touchdown, Bellamy added 157 and three touchdowns, and the two seniors led Western Michigan to a 35-31 victory over Ball State in their final home game at Waldo Stadium.
Both rushers set the tone for the game on their first carries of the night. Bellamy’s initial handoff went for 12 yards, while Wassink faked the entire Ball State defense and ran 60 yards on a read option — the longest run of his college career. Wassink’s massive play set up Bellamy’s first of his hat trick of touchdowns, providing Western Michigan with an early 7-0 lead.
After Ball State answered with a score, Wassink called his own number again, and once more, the senior quarterback did plenty of damage with his legs. The speed option paid off and Wassink exploded for a 46-yard sprint (the second longest run of his career) to the house to give the Broncos a 14-7 lead.
Western Michigan’s third rushing touchdown also came in the form of a run, but this time, the transfer wide receiver Keith Mixon Jr. reaped the benefits. Wassink handed the ball to Bellamy, and Bellamy pitched it to Mixon on the reverse. The electric receiver/return man got a solid block from his quarterback and entered the end zone from 47 yards out. Western Michigan entered halftime with a 21-10 lead over the MAC West’s first place Cardinals.
It wouldn’t take long for Ball State to make the second half interesting. Malik Dunner fielded the opening kickoff of the third quarter and left Western Michigan tacklers in the dust en route to a 100-yard kickoff return. Down 21-17, the Cardinals’ defense forced consecutive Western Michigan punts in order to allow the offense a shot at the lead.
On Ball State’s first of two possessions trailing by four, running back Caleb Huntley was stuffed by the Broncos’ defense on 4th and 1. On the second drive, Huntley pushed the Cardinals down the field with a handful of efficient pickups. Quarterback Drew Plitt completed Huntley’s work with a 1-yard quarterback sneak, and Ball State captured its first lead of the night, 24-21.
Enter Bellamy. The senior running back had nine touches on the ensuing go-ahead drive, a nearly 6-minute possession which ate up clock and provided Western Michigan the lead. On 4th and 2 from the Ball State 16, instead of kicking a 33-yard field goal, head coach Tim Lester insisted his team feed Bellamy. The star halfback proved reliable, as he ran between the tackles for a 16-yard touchdown.
Ball State took a page out of Western Michigan’s playbook in a follow-up act. Head coach Mike Neu didn’t have his offense pass once on the following sequence. Huntley and co-running back Walter Fletcher combined for 69 yards (assisted by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on WMU) and Ball State ended up in the end zone, ahead 31-28 with 3:24 remaining.
In a battle between running games, Western Michigan had no plans to run an air-raid 3-minute drill. Bellamy continued to take over the game on the ground, driving the Broncos past midfield after a sizable kick return by Mixon. Wassink burst for a 10-yard run to set his team near the goal line, and Bellamy punched the ball into the end zone on a 9-yard run — giving Western Michigan a 35-31 lead on the third lead change in the final six minutes.
On Ball State’s final possession, Western Michigan’s pass rush proved too dangerous for Plitt and Co. Defensive end Ali Fayad pressured Plitt on three consecutive plays, nearly forcing sacks on all three of them, as Plitt barely escaped each one with a last-second incompletion fired at the ground. On 4th and 10, Ball State threw a 5-yard pass well short of the sticks as 34 seconds remained on the clock.
Ball State still had three timeouts and a silver of hope, but that hope was put to rest by Wassink on his career rushing day. On 2nd and 12, Wassink utilized the team’s signature read option and managed to pick up 13 yards in the open space, fittingly sealing a victory in his final play at Waldo Stadium.
Western Michigan improved to 6-4 with the victory, becoming the third team in the MAC West to attain bowl eligibility (Central Michigan, Toledo). After avenging a 42-41 loss to Ball State last year, the Broncos will finish the 2019 season a perfect 6-0 in Kalamazoo, but they have yet to earn a victory as a visitor. Lester’s team will have two chances at Ohio and at Northern Illinois to break the 6-game losing streak away from home (dating back to October 20, 2018).
Ball State lost its second-consecutive contest after starting MAC play 3-0. The Cardinals’ clear path to Detroit now becomes a bit foggier, and Ball State must beat two of Central Michigan, Kent State, and Miami (OH) to earn bowl eligibility for the first time since 2013.