The Western Michigan Broncos (1-1, 1-0 MAC) and Ball State Cardinals (0-2, 0-1 MAC) played another classic in Muncie, reminiscent of previous seasons, but this go-around would be see the Broncos pulled out the victory on the road in Sheumann Stadium by a final score of 37-30. Ball State had won three of the last four matchups between the two programs and none of the victories were expected or simple.
This game would be no different, even if the Broncos got the win.
The game got weird immediately. Ball State got the ball first and started from their own 22 yard line. On the second play, quarterback John Paddock completed an eight-yard pass to Yo’Heinz Tyler. Western Michigan cornerback Dorian Jackson held him up long enough for defensive lineman Braden Fiske to get there and punch the ball free. He did the same thing last week against Michigan State and is now officially a forced fumble specialist. Western Michigan recovered the loose ball.
On the ensuing drive, Bronco running back Sean Tyler fumbled the ball as soon as he broke through the line. Luckily for Western Michigan, wide receiver Corey Crooms was right there to jump on the ball. Quarterback Jack Salopek took off on a 3rd and 9 scramble and was popped on his way out of bounds. He left the game for the remainder of the drive. Backup [ Mareyohn Hrabowski came in and converted the fourth-and-one with a designed quarterback run. Running back La’Darius Jefferson finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown run.
Ball State got the ball back and running back Carson Steele decided to run everyone over on the way to the endzone, with three consecutive rushes for 26, 10 and 17 yards to set up the Cards in advantageous field position.
A facemask would move the Cardinals even farther forward and two plays later, Paddock got the ball to Tyler in the corner of the endzone over the Bronco cornerback to cap off a five-play, 77-yard drive.
From here on, the defenses started to assert themselves. Salopek returned for the Broncos but couldn’t get the ball moving.
After the three-and-out, Ball State moved the ball down to first-and-goal efficiently. The Bronco defense was able to keep them out of the endzone this time with a solid tackle for no gain by Fiske on first down. The Cardinals were forced to settle for a field goal, but gladly take the lead 10-7.
Western Michigan moved the ball well on their next drive but small mistakes ended the drive. Receivers were falling down on routes and passes were catchable, but slightly off target. A fourth-down scramble came up short and the Cardinal defense gets off the field in their own territory.
The next six drives featured six punts, four of them were three-and-out variety. Ball State let the play clock expire on a fourth-and-three and still punted in Western Michigan territory. It paid off in this instance. The Broncos were stopped without a first down and gave the ball back in good field position.
One big play to tight end Brady Hunt for 30 yards for the Cardinals moved the ball into field goal territory for Ben VenGunten. His 47-yard field goal made the game 13-7 in favor of ball State.
Western Michigan got moving in their two-minute offense, starting at their own 19-yard line. Salopek completed passes to Galloway and Crooms for 20-yards and 11-yards respectively. With the ball at mid-field, the Broncos manufactured the rest of the drive. They converted a third-and-six, a third-and-four and a third-and-goal from the five-yard line to finish the drive in the endzone, giving Jefferson his second rushing touchdown of the day.
There is no doubt that if any of these plays weren’t converted, Tim Lester and company would’ve went for it on fourth down; WMU finished the night going 4-of-6 throughout the game on fourth-down attempts.
With27 seconds left and the ball at their own 29, the Cardinals started their drive. They seemed to want the ball in Tyler’s hands and attempted a single cover pass down the left sideline, then the right where they found a 23-yard completion. The drive stalled, but VonGunten drilled another 44-yard field goal to take a 16-13 lead into the half.
After some initial spurts of offense, the defenses took control of the first half. When the offenses applied pressure in short fields or at the end of the half, they won out. That pattern continued in the second half.
The Broncos got the ball to start the second half and achieved one first down before being forced to punt.
Ball State took over at the 22 and was held to a quick, clean three and out. The Western Michigan punt returner Zahir Abdus-Salaam, however, gave the ball right back.
Carson Steele made the turnover hurt and broke off a 29-yard run on the following third down. He was given the ball on the next four plays and scored to stretch the lead to 23-14.
Western Michigan was a team which got beat by this type of play often last season, with games against Ball State, Toledo and Eastern Michigan in 2021 each having second-half turnovers that killed the game.
This time aorund, the Broncos responded.
On an eight-play, 75-yard drive the Broncos gave Jefferson the ball at the four-yard line and converted for his third score on the day.
The Broncos held the Cardinals to a quick three-and-out and Jack Salopek threw an absolute dime to Corey Crooms for his first collegiate touchdown pass. The Broncos took the lead 29-23 with this score.
They went for two and converted an a reverse pass to the quarterback.
On Ball State’s next drive they were able to take advantage of the Broncos secondary and their inability to contain the big play. John Paddock hit Vanderbilt transfer Amir Adbur-Rahman down the sideline for a 39-yard touchdown. Abdur-Rahman made the catch one handed and in stride. An absolute beauty. Cardinals lead 30-29.
Another potentially disastrous drive that would’ve derailed previous Bronco teams befell them on their next drive. The Broncos were on the move, running the ball well, when Salopek took a deep shot after wide receiver Jehlani Galloway. Galloway never saw it and cornerback Amechi Uzodinma tracked it into his arms unopposed. An illegal crack-back block limited the return for the Cardinals, but they had the ball and the lead.
A roughing the passer penalty by defensive end Andre Carter gave the Cardinals a first down, but that’s all they could muster. Abdus-Salaam juggled the punt again, but recovered it himself this time.
Sean Tyler scored the game winner on the next play. He exploded through the line and won a footrace to the endzone.
With the 60-yard score and another two point conversion by Jefferson, the Broncos had the final score 37-30.
Ball State had one more drive and got the ball to midfield. Cornerback Anthony Romphf and linebacker Corvin Moment combined to make a huge tackle for loss on second down and force a 3rd and 11. The secondary kept the Cardinals in front on the next two plays and forced the turnover on downs.
The Broncos possessed the ball for the final 4:47 and ended the game with the ball.
The Ball State Cardinals and the Western Michigan Broncos produced another wild game. The Broncos won a game by seven points they at one point trailed by nine. Their drives in the second half after the Cardinals extended the lead to 23-14, were the reason they won the game. They went touchdown, touchdown, interception, touchdown, and turnover on downs.
Ball State on the other hand went punt, touchdown, punt and turnover on downs. The Bronco defense made the stops down the stretch they needed to win, which is a much needed improvement from multiple points last season. There’s still a long way to go for both teams.
Western Michigan returns to Kalamazoo for their home opener against Pitt, and Ball State hosts Murray State hoping to get their first win.