Ball State has had a penchant for close games for several years now, famously blowing double-digit leads last season to Flordia Atlantic and Central Michigan which took them out of the running for a bowl game in 2019.
Coming into the season, Mike Neu was considered to be on the hot seat due to Ball State’s seeming inability to close games out and put the Cardinals in a better position to compete in a murderous MAC West divison.
It was only last week where they once again held a three-possession lead with just over five minutes remaining agaisnt the Toledo Rockets, before having to pick up a late strip sack to preserve a three-point victory. The Cardinals also sweated out one-score wins against NIU and EMU in previous games this season, so to say they had to come out guns a-blazing against a dangerous CMU squad on the road was an understatement.
They did that and more, racing out to a 24-7 lead in the first half, and completely dominating the Chippewas in all three phases of the game to take away a 45-20 win at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
It wasn’t quite a traditional start to the game, as CMU got the ball first and went for it on 4th and 1 from the BSU 47 to try and extend the drive early, turning the ball over on downs. The Cardinals would take the ensuing drive up to the CMU 17 before stalling out and settling for a Jack Knight field goal to go up 3-0.
After another CMU punt pinned the Cardinals at their own five-yard line, Ball State marched down the field for a 12-play, 95-yard drive lasting 5:10, capping it off with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Drew Plitt to Yo’Heinz Tyler to put Ball State up 10-0 with 2:42 remaining in the first quarter.
Central answered back quickly, with a 38-yard touchdown connection between former Sam Houston State starting QB Ty Brock and Kalil Pimpleton to bring the score to 10-7 in the opening seconds of the second quarter.
Both teams exhanged punts twice following short drives before Drew Plitt broke through the CMU defense once again to cap off a 10-play, 48-yard drive lasting about four minutes to put the Cards up 17-7. Ball State found themselves in a good spot once again a few moments later, getting the ball after collecting two back-to-back sacks and forcing a punt, converting it into another Drew Plitt passing touchdown, this time to former offensive lineman and current TE Dylan Koch, to push the score to its 24-7 look at halftime.
Kalil Pimpleton fumbled the ball on a botched trick play return on the very next kickoff to grant Ball State possession right before the end of the half, but CMU held strong to maintain the score. This seems to have set a spark in them coming out of the halftime break, with Willie Reid nabbing an interception on a tipped pass to give CMU the ball in their own territory on the first drive of the third quarter. Ty Brock would take the ball to the house two plays later on an 82-yard scramble to get CMU back to within two scores at 24-14.
The teams exchanged punts once again, and Ball State was set to punt again after another stalled drive at around the 6:15 mark of the third quarter. Nathan Snyder’s punt was downed at the CMU one-yard line, but a penalty for a holding call on the kicking team forced a re-try from 10 yards further back. This time, Kalil Pimpleton lined up to catch it, but noticed the ball was falling short and tried to dive on it, muffing the punt and allowing Tye Evans to make a recovery at the CMU 28.
Ball State would score 21 points unanswered from there, with two receiving touchdowns for Jalen McGoughy and a rushing touchdown for Will Jones before Central would get on the scoreboard for the last time with a touchdown to FB/TE Hunter Buczkowski, the first of the Mt. Pleasant native’s career.
For Ball State, Drew Plitt continued his impressive 2020 campaign, finishing 26-of-43 for 366 yards and four passing touchdowns, with an additional 29 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
Jalen McGaughy’s 100 yards and two touchdowns on three receptions led all receivers, while Antwan Davis led the Cardinals in receptions (6) and hauled in 78 yards. Yo’Heinz Tyler continued his scoring streak (five scores in four games) by hauling in another touchdown to go along with his 74 yards on four receptions.
With Caleb Huntley out once again due to an injury, the rushing load fell on Tye Evans, who had 18 carries for 65 yards. Will Jones (nine carries, 32 yards, one touchdown) and Plitt contributed to the rushing scores.
Defensively, Ball State feasted on a decimated Chippewa offensive unit, with 10 different players picking up 11 tackles-for-loss, four sacks from four different players, two inteceptions and two fumble recoveries, as well as forcing two turnovers-on-down. The defense also held CMU to five three-and-outs and 4-of-14 on third-down conversions overall to stall out a lot of potential drives.
Brandon Martin led the Cardinals in total tackles (9), while also grabbing one tackle-for-loss and a sack on the day. Bryce Cosby (six tackeles) and Anthony Epke (two tackles) both picked up two tackles-for-loss and a sack each, while JT Wahee and Brett Anderson were responsible for the two BSU interceptions.
The Chippewas struggled mightily from the start, rolling out third-string QB Ty Brock for his first start of the season. Brock finished 20-of-30 for 288 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, with an additional 82-yard rushing touchdown. His 67 net rushing yards put him as the second-best rusher for CMU.
It was Lew Nichols III who led the Chips in rushing, with 12 carries for 70 yards on the day. Kobe Lewis was on a milk carton after rushing for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s come-from-behind win, mustering only 19 yards on nine carries in Saturday’s loss.
On the receiving end, Kalil Pimpleton led CMU with seven receptions (tying Ball State’s Justin Hall for the game high,) 66 yards and a touchdown. Joel Wilson, Drayton Law and JaCorey Sullivan each finished with three receptions apiece.
It wasn’t the best of days for the Chippewas, as they found themselves on the field for over 35 minutes of game time due to a bevy of short offensive drives. They allowed Ball State to convert 12-of-20 third-down conversion attempts, and 28 first downs overall, while also allowing the Cardinals to gain 595 yards of total offense for an average of 5.5 yards per play.
Troy Brown was the unquestioned leader of the game defensively for CMU, with 12 total tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks, leading all players. Troy Hairston (seven tackles, .5 sacks,) Dishon McNary (four tackles) and Jacquez Bristol (.5 sacks) each picked up a tackle-for-loss on the day, while McNary led the secondary with four of CMU’s six pass breakups.
The Chippewas (3-2) will conclude their season against Toledo (3-2) in the Glass Bowl on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. EST on ESPN3.
The Cardinals (4-1) will play against the Western Michigan Broncos (4-1) to decide which team will represent the MAC West in the MAC Championship Game in Detroit, Michigan, on Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m. EST on ESPN+.