Steven Duncan came off the bench to guide three second-half touchdown drives and push WKU over the top in a tight game.
Ball State was penalized 10 times for 120 yards on the afternoon and had several other holding penalties declined in long down-and-distance situations. Six times the Cardinals found themselves needing at least 18 yards to pick up a first down. For its part, WKU was penalized 11 times for 102 yards.
Impressively, Riley Neal managed to convert three of those “behind-the-chains” situations into first downs in the second half, including a fourth-and-18 in the final minute that gave the Cardinals life. On the play, Riley found Riley Miller down the sideline for 34 yards, moving Ball State into WKU territory with 18 seconds to play.
Neal had time for three shots into the endzone, but all three were broken up, including a Hail Mary as time expired.
"It was a disappointing day not to get the win here at home to finish off our non-conference schedule," Neu said. "It was a good crowd, and we appreciate the support. Simply too many things we left on the field that we need to clean up."
Duncan completed 12-of-16 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 55 yards on six carries in his half of play. He found Mik'Quan Deane for two of those touchdowns, including the final go-ahead score with 4:41 to play.
After Ball State's only three-and-out of the game on the ensuing possession, WKU put together another touchdown drive. The Hilltoppers did all their work on the ground on that final possession. Joshua Samuel eventually scored with 59 seconds left as WKU pushed its lead to 28-20.
Neal hit his first nine passes of the day and went on to finish 27-of-45 for a season-high 285 yards and a touchdown. The bulk of his throws went to the trio of Miller, Corey Lacanaria and Justin Hall, who combined for 25 of the team's 27 receptions.
Miller (112 yards) and Lacanaria (99) both set career highs. Lacanaria's 6-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown with 8:39 to play regained the lead for Ball State before WKU outscored the Cardinals 14-0 down the stretch.
"Western Kentucky is a good team; we knew their record wasn't an indicator of the kind of football team they are," Neu said. "You have to give them credit for responding. We scored a touchdown there, and they scored four minutes later. … You have to tip your hat to them for coming back and responding to a little adversity."
The game was one of ball control by both teams. Ball State had only nine possessions, and one of those came with less than a minute to play in the game.
Malik Dunner scored on a 1-yard run on Ball State's opening possession, After that, the Cardinals repeatedly thwarted WKU drives to stay on top the rest of the first half. In five first-half possessions, the Hilltoppers racked up 200 yards but reached the Ball State 40-yard line only once.
A Morgan Hagee field goal before the half and another one right after gave the Cardinals a 13-7 lead before WKU started to find its footing offensively.
The game was the first of three in a row at home for Ball State. The Cardinals will return to action Saturday, Sept. 29 with the Mid-American Conference opener against Kent State. That contest will kick at 3 p.m. ET
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics)