Blazer quarterback A.J. Erdely had just scampered eight yards for his third touchdown to cut Ball State's lead to 31-24 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.
Malik Dunner, however, had . . .
Dunner's return was part of a special teams performance Saturday that also included a David Moore blocked punt and a David Rueth fumble recovery on a kickoff over the final 15-plus minutes.
"Coach (Pat) Dougherty does a great job with our special teams," Ball State coach Mike Neu said. "We spend a significant amount of time drilling special teams during practice. It's hard because most of these young men come here and just think about offense or just think about defense. They don't think about how much of an impact special teams can have on the outcome of the game."
Dunner, who opened the afternoon with a touchdown run on the game's opening possession, and backfield mate James Gilbert both scored two touchdowns.
The Cardinals (1-1) were stymied on the ground for much of the game but finished the day with four rushing scores. Freshman Caleb Huntley had the other ground touchdown on one of the day's biggest plays. After UAB took its only lead at 17-14 on an Erdely run in the second quarter, Huntley powered his way 52 yards to put the Cardinals back on top. They never trailed again.
Ball State held UAB (1-1) to just seven points for a 30-minute stretch until the Blazers tacked on a late score. The Cardinals came up with a fourth-down stop and Rueth's fumble recovery in the fourth quarter, setting up a pair of touchdowns.
The turnover on downs led to Gilbert's second scoring run, and the fumble recovery resulted in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Riley Neal to freshman receiver Justin Hall as the Cardinals pulled away.
Neal and Hall connected eight times for 94 yards in the game. Ball State's junior quarterback finished the day 23 of 34 through the air for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He also found sophomore tight end Danny Pinter for a second-quarter score.
"We don't have just one go-to guy," Neu said. "That's not the kind of offense we run. Justin Hall had the hot hand today and made plays. All of our guys get several opportunities to get their hands on the ball and make a plays. We have a lot of playmakers, and we will try to get them all the ball when we can."
Neal hit eight different receivers on the day and orchestrated a Cardinals' offensive attack that never turned the ball over. Ball State controlled the clock for more than 34 minutes and converted 11 of its 17 third-down opportunities.
"Any time you can win the turnover battle, you give yourself a big advantage," Neu said. "You can read a lot about the stat sheet at the end of the game, but if you can make sure you win the turnover battle every week, you have a good chance of winning that particular game."
Erdely was the catalyst for UAB, throwing for 168 yards and adding 77 on the ground. His ground total would have been higher if not for three sacks by the Ball State defense. Anthony Winbush had 1.5 sacks and now owns 4.5 through two games. The senior defensive end also forced two fumbles.
Ball State will remain home to host Tennessee Tech next Saturday, Sept. 16. The Family Weekend contest will kick off a 3 p.m. at Scheumann Stadium.
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics)