With the victory, Ball State improves to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the MAC, while Eastern Michigan falls to 1-2 and 0-1.
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Freshman quarterback Riley Neal led the Cardinals on two long scoring drives late in the second quarter and then two more on back-to-back possessions midway through the second half.
Ball State’s first scoring drive was an early turning point in the game. Trailing 17-0 in the second quarter and facing 4th-and-1 at its 34-yard line, Ball State decided to go for the first down. Freshman running back James Gilbert extended the drive with a 10-yard run. Three plays later, Neal scored on a broken play 41-yard highlight run down the right sideline to get the Cardinals on the board.
The Cardinal offense later marched 94 yards on seven plays right before halftime to cut the deficit to 17-14. Neal capped the drive with a 26-yard touchdown strike over the middle to senior wide receiver Jordan Williams with 38 seconds left on the clock.
Ball State took the lead for good with a methodical 20-play, 85-yard drive that took 9:49 off clock in the third and early fourth quarters. The Cardinals converted three third downs and two fourth downs on the crucial drive. Gilbert gave Ball State the lead with a 5-yard scoring run with 12:55 remaining.
After a quick three-and-out by Eastern Michigan, Ball State went on the march again. Sophomore running back Darian Green put the Cardinals in scoring position with a 30-yard burst. A few minutes later, Gilbert slipped into the end zone again on a 1-yard run to extend the lead to 28-17.
From there, the Ball State defense made sure the lead would hold. Senior linebacker Sean Wiggins, who recorded his first collegiate sack earlier in the contest, came away with interceptions on Eastern Michigan’s final two possessions.
“We did a nice job fitting things in the second half, and we didn’t have many missed tackles,” Lembo said. “One of the best things we did was stay in coverage down the field on scrambles. Our guys did a nice job whether it was man or zone and not allowing explosive plays off scrambles.”
Green led the rushing attack with 164 yards on 25 carries. Gilbert added 39 yards and two scores while Neal carried 11 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. Neal was also proficient through the air, completing 24-of-28 passes (85.7 percent) for 194 yards and a touchdown.
On defense, the Cardinals held Eastern Michigan to just 106 yards on its final six possessions. Sophomore defensive back David Moore led the squad with six tackles. Fellow back Darius Conaway added four stops and three pass break-ups.
Ball State returns to non-conference action next Saturday, Sept. 26 in its first ever meeting against Northwestern. Eastern Michigan remains at home, hosting Army.
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics)