The Western Michigan Broncos (2-3, 1-1 Mid-American Conference) beat the Ball State Cardinals (1-4, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) by a final margin of 42-24 on Saturday afternoon in Kalamazoo in a contest which was an uphill climb for the visitors from the opening moments.
The Broncos scored three times in the second quarter and had their best offensive output of the season, while Ball State fell to 1-4 despite doing their best to apply pressure to a young Western Michigan team.
Journeyman quarterback Layne Hatcher picked his first conference start at his fourth stop in his college career for the Cardinals today, replacing true freshman Kadin Semonza. Hatcher, who was previously announced as the team’s QB1 in the preseason, had walked on at Alabama to start his career before transferring to Arkansas State for three seasons and Texas State for one.
The Cardinals got the ball after a Western Michigan punt and they distributed the ball to their playmakers, including Marquez Cooper. The drive stalled out at the WMU ten-yard line and they settled for a field goal.
Western Michigan took to the air on the next drive and found their big receivers for big plays. Malik Dieudonne made a leaping catch for a 17-yard completion and Sambucci scored the Broncos' first touchdown with an 18-yard reception. This drive was the first indication that the Broncos were going to throw the ball more than normal. So far, the Broncos had thrown nine passes to three rushes.
Boone Bonnema sacked Hatcher on third down to force a Cardinal punt that pushed the Broncos back to their own eight-yard line. The Bronco offense was having success with horizontal, easy completions to keep the ball moving, but they sprung tight end Austin Hence for a big gain when they play faked the screen. He released to the middle of the field for a big gain. Buckley ran off the field during this drive with a slight limp, which would be a recurring problem for him this afternoon. The drive ended with a third and one rush by Zahir Abdus-Salaam for a touchdown.
Ball State’s next drive was on the move and benefiting from defensive pass interference by WMU cornerback Dashon Bussell. They converted a third-and-eight play to move into scoring position, but it was called by on a hold downfield. Hatcher was extending the play on the next attempt when defensive tackle Corey Walker knocked the ball out of his hands from behind. Linebacker Demari Roberson scooped it up for a huge turnover.
Western Michigan used seven plays to capitalize on the good field position, capping the drive with a 12-yard sweep to the endzone by Buckley. WMU had a commanding 21-3 lead at this point, but it was still the second quarter.
Ball State wasted no time answering the bell. In six plays, they covered 73 yards for a touchdown. Qian Magwood had two catches for 44 total yards and Marquez Cooper ran the ball three times for 27 yards. Western Michigan committed to stopping the run on a play fake and Hatcher completed a two-yard pass to Maximus Webster for the score.
The Broncos were aggressive in their final drive of the first half, calling timeouts when Ball State had the ball to get the ball back. It worked, and they got the ball at their own 41 with 88 seconds left. Somehow, WMU ran ten plays in 88 seconds and got the ball to Sambucci again in the endzone. A double move with a pump fake got him free in the corner of the endzone for the score. That made the score 28-10 and that difference would be the final difference.
Ball State took advantage of a horrendous series for the WMU defense. The Bronco defense spotted Ball State 25 yards in penalties, including a third-down conversion, and declined to tackle Qian Magwood despite ample opportunity.
Western Michigan responded on the next drive with Anthony Sambucci’s third touchdown catch. He got behind the defense for what seems like the tenth time this season and scored from 31 yards away. At this point, the defenses started to show up and each team would only muster one more score. Ball State would create a little pressure when they cut the lead to 11 and forced WMU off the field with a three-and-out. The Bronco defense got caught peeking in the backfield and Ahmad Edwards caught a 57-yard touchdown pass, as big plays continue to plague WMU.
The Bronco defense stepped up after that and Abdus-Salaam added his second touchdown to get the lead back to 18.
Treyson Bourguet had a career day with career highs in passes, completions, yards and touchdowns. To help him, the Bronco receivers were a force. Five receivers had over 50 receiving yards, Sambucci leading the way with five catches, 73 yards and three touchdowns. The rushing attack was solid, but not as eye-popping as most weeks. Buckley being in and out with a limp played a part, but he and Abdus-Salaam combined for 103 yards on 21 carries for three touchdowns. They looked like a good MAC offense today.
Ball State was able to get the ball to Marquez Cooper 19 times for 136 total yards. Hatcher got the ball to Magwood nine times for 110 yards and a touchdown. He led all Cardinal receivers. Hatcher threw for 316 yards on 37 attempts with three touchdowns and no interceptions. However, his day was undercut by six sacks.
Ball State stays on the road in Michigan next week. They head to Eastern Michigan for another MAC West showdown.
Western Michigan finishes their non-conference slate with a trip to Mississippi State.