Points came at a premium when UMass visited The Scheu on Halloween, which is not what anyone expected. Both Ball State and UMass played stellar defense only to see the Cardinals hold on to the lead late and win their third game of the season and end a five-game losing streak.
Early on, third down was kind to Ball State. The Cardinals used three third-down conversions on their first possession to invade the red zone. After a holding call stalled the drive, Morgan Hagee nailed a 34-yard field goal to put the home team in front 3-0.
Blake Frohnapfel found wide receiver Tajae Sharpe early and often. The senior-to-senior combination hooked up five times over the first two Minutemen drives. UMass kicker Logan Laurent missed a chance to tie the game at three as his 35-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right with 4:05 to play in quarter number one.
The ensuing Ball State possession saw the Cardinals drive into the red zone again. After a trick play drew a pass interference call, Ball State failed to convert from the one. The UMass defense stood tall and stopped three Cardinal rushing attempts to take over in front of their own goalpost. Two Jamal Wilson carries helped the Minutemen escape the danger of their own endzone preceding the stall of the drive near midfield.
We've been talking a lot all season about Ball State freshman quarterback Riley Neal. Through the first half, Neal was solid. Splitting responsibilities between finding his targets and handing the ball to his tailbacks, it was a pretty performance. Neal's dark spot came on a severely under-thrown deep ball midway through the second quarter, which was intercepted by Randall Jette, giving UMass a chance to tie or take the lead with 7:55 to play before the half.
Blake Frohnapfel's pass on fourth and six was dropped, and momentum shifted. After taking over at their own 45 with 2:52 to go in the first half, Riley Neal made it happen. After finding Jordan Williams for 14 yards on a screen, Neal spotted KeVonn Mabon streaking wide open down the right seam, and found him. Mabon was tackled short of the goal line, but a James Gilbert score one play later took care of that issue. A four play, 55-yard drive put the Cards up 10-0 with 1:15 to play in the first half.
With little time to work with, Blake Frohnapfel showed his experience to help get the Minutemen on the board. Logan Laurent redeemed his early miss and hit a 29-yard field goal to bring UMass within a score as the first half came to a close.
Darian Green opened the second half with a BANG. The tailback took the second half opening kickoff 85 yards to set the Ball State offense up at the UMass fifteen. Two plays into the short drive, Jordan Williams did more Jordan Williams things. Neal lofted a ball into the single coverage on the right side and Williams went up and over the defender and got his one needed and an extra foot down to put the Cardinals 17-3.
It seemed as though each time Ball State put points on the board, Blake Frohnapfel would take it personally. Completing nearly all of his passes on the next drive, Frohnapfel led UMass down the field to get TD on a seven yard strike to Elgin Long, bringing the Minutemen back into the game trailing only 17-10.
Halfway through the third, Riley Neal and the Ball State wide receiving crew did some good things. Neal's throws were on point as Jordan Williams and Corey Lacanaria hauled in impressive grabs before a third and long killed the effort for six. Although six wasn't reachable, Morgan Hagee was able to extend the Cardinal lead to 20-10 with his second make of the day.
Ball State carried its 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter. Nearing the end zone, Riley Neal was stripped by Charan Singh, who was also able to recover the fumble. Frohnapfel found his targets twice and UMass was on the move. After a long third down conversion, Ben Ingle made a huge play for Ball State. The fifth-year senior picked off Blake Frohnapfel's throw into the endzone. Ingle attempted to return the interception but lost his footing at the three. The interception was Ingle's first of 2015.
With four minutes to play, UMass had their shot. Frohnapfel was unable to connect with anyone on fourth and six and Ball State took over with a ten point lead and 3:52 to play. Two short plays and then an impressive catch and run from Mabon helped Ball State run down the game clock and knock out UMass. The Cardinals looked impressive in all facets, earning a 20-10 home win.
Riley Neal finished 20/32 with 275 yards passing including one touchdown and one interception for the Cardinals while tailback James Gilbert led the way on the ground for Ball State, carrying 25 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. KeVonn Mabon had six catches for 150 yards. while Jordan Williams hauled in six catches for 60 yards and one touchdown.
UMass QB Blake Frohnapfel threw for 259 yards on 32/44 passing with one touchdown and one interception. The Minutemen had ten different receivers catch passes and were led by Sharpe with 11 receptions. Elgin Long scored the lone touchdown for the Minutemen.
The win improves Ball State's record to 3-6 overall and 2-3 in the MAC. The Cardinals next game is Thursday night at Western Michigan.
After the loss, UMass drops to 1-7 overall and 0-4 within the conference. The Minutemen's next scheduled battle comes against Akron next Saturday.