The Ball State Cardinals (3-2, 1-1 MAC West) had to fight off a comeback rally from the hosting Central Michigan Chippewas (1-5, 0-2 MAC West) in the last two minutes of the contest, but they managed to pick up a vital pass break-up on fourth down to spoil CMU’s Homecoming weekend, winning by the narrow margin of 17-16 on Saturday afternoon.
It was a strange game from the start, with Ball State stopped for a three-and-out on the first possession— only for CMU to cough up the ball on a catch-fumble to give it right back. The Cards couldn’t make anything of it on the short field, with Ben VonGunten missing from 39 yards out to give CMU the ball back once again.
Central took the ball back and marched 52 yards on 14 plays to set up what would become a Josh Rolston field goal try from 44 yards out, giving the Chips an early 3-0 lead. Ball State would end the next drive with a punt, while Central would turn it over on downs at the BSU 22 on the ensuing possession.
On the first play of the new series, Donte Kent and a fleet of Chippewa defenders got to John Paddock on a broken screen, causing Paddock to fumble the ball on Donte Kent’s sack attempt. Thomas Incoom recovered, giving CMU the ball at the three-yard line.
Lew Nichols would convert the turnover to points, giving CMU the 10-0 lead to end the first quarter.
The Chippewas got another chance to tack on some first half points when a Luke Elzinga punt bounced off Jayshon Jackson and found itself in the arms of Ryan Peluso instead— but they couldn’t get anything going offensively and Josh Rolson would slice the chip shot field goal wide left to keep the score at 10-0.
Ball State would finally find their way to the board with 5:01 remaining in the second quarter, as Brady Hunt would cap off a 40-yard drive with a two-yard reception on an underneath route to bring the score to 10-7, which would be the halftime tally after a number of ineffective drives for both sides to end the quarter.
The third quarter would start with an exchange of turnovers-on-down, as CMU would get stymied on a fourth-and-one attempt at the Ball State 45 to kill a drive, then Ball State would fail to convert on a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line on the next possession.
The Chips found some breathing room on a nine-yard Carlos Carriere reception, then got stopped on two straight plays for one combined yard before employing the Wildcat offense with running back Myles Bailey taking the snap. Bailey and fellow back Marion Lukes bothced the exchange, and Sidney Houston would run it back for a 10-yard defensive touchdown to give Ball State their first lead of the night.
The Chippewas answered right back with a nine-play, 62-yard drive ending in an impressive Carlos Carriere 10-yard touchdown reception, where he dragged four Cardinal defenders with him into the endzone. In what would turn out to be a key play, new placekicer Josh Rolston missed the extra point, putting the lead at 16-14 in favor of CMU with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts, the CMU defense would hold strong once again in their own redzone, preventing the Cardinals from getting maximum points and holding them to a 22-yard field goal from Ben VonGunten, giving the Cards the 17-16 lead with 12:14 remaining.
Four straight punts were forced on the next four possessions, winding down the clock to the 1:23 mark in what had turned into a bit of a defensive slugfest, giving CMU one last attempt at winning the game with any score, starting from the Ball State 46-yard line after a great return by Jordyn Williams.
Daniel Richardson would find former Ball State receiver Jalen McGaughy for a six-yard gain, but that’s as far as they would get, with the fourth-and-four pass attempt to a double-covered Carlos Carriere getting swatted away by Tyler “Red” Potts, who had been excellent in man-to-man coverage all day, securing the 17-16 final score for the Cards.
It was, to put it plainly, a struggle of a game.
Ball State would go 0-of-13 on third-down attempts for the entire game and went 0-of-1 on their only fourth-down attempt, while CMU had a similar streak of futility before rallying to finish 5-of-20 on third-down attempts, with a 3-of-6 fourth-down rate to boot— with all three conversions early in the first half.
The two teams also combined for 16 punts, each lost two fumbles, missed at least one field goal on the day and had 18 combined drives of four plays or less, making for a bit of a frustrating affair for both sides.
Daniel Richardson finished 19-of-40 for 210 yards and one touchdown, with no interceptions for CMU. Lew Nichols was three yards short of a 100-yard effort on a 31 carry day, scoring once early. Carlos Carriere (72 yards, touchdown) and Joel Wilson (52 yards) each had six receptions to lead the Chippewa attack.
Kyle Moretti led CMU in tackles with eight stops, while Donte Kent had seven tackles (all solo), with a tackle-for-loss, a strip sack and two pass break-ups. Thomas Incoom was CMU’s sole effective bacfield presence in the rush, with six tackles, three tackles-for-loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. Ronald Kent Jr. led with three pass break-ups.
John Paddock finished 15-of-27 for 122 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, though he did have a lost fumble on a sack. Carson Steele really carried the team on the afternoon while the rest of the offense struggled, with 124 yards on 28 totes. Yo’Heinz Tyler hauled in five receptions to lead the team, while Jayshon Jackson led the team with 49 yards and Brady Hunt had the lone touchdown.
Clayton Coll led all tacklers with 13 stops (11 solo) and had a forced fumble, with fellow backer Cole Pearce getting 10 stops (all solo), two tackles-for-loss and two pass break-ups. Six players had at least one tackle-for-loss, while three had sacks on the day. Malcolm Lee and Sidney Houston both had fumble recoveries, with the latter scoring on a four-yard return. Tyler “Red” Potts had three pass break-ups, tying the game-high.
Both kickers went 1-of-2, with Ball State’s Ben VonGunten making from 22 yards and missing from 39 yards, and CMU’s Josh Rolston making from 44 yards but missing from 33 yards.
Ball State will wrap up their non-conference schedule with a game against the UConn Huskies at 2 p.m. Eastern, while Central Michigan gears up for a trek to a fellow 1-5 MAC school in Akron for a noon Eastern kickoff.