BY MAX DENARI | Ball State Sports Link
The home opener is always a game that you need to win.
Ball State was coming into its game last Saturday having won its last seven home-openers — and no Cardinal on that field wanted to see that streak come to an end.
The Cardinals, playing their first game in Scheumann Stadium this season, had come off a disappointing loss in Bloomington to the Indiana Hoosiers, 30-20, the week before .
Having failed to continue push their win streak to four-consecutive games against the in-state rivals, every Cardinal wanted to come away with a win against Eastern Kentucky.
“We were not going to leave the field today unless we came away from this game 2-1,” Ball State head coach Mike Neu said. “I am proud of our guys . It was a great home win for us. We always want to defend our home field.”
It was a dominating performance by the Cardinals from the opening.
Ball State opened up the scoring in the first quarter with a Devin Reece reception with 8:12 on the clock, and doubled its lead from a Riley Neal rush — with 0:38 on the clock — to go up 14-0. Neal completed his first 16 pass attempts of the game, which marks the best start of his career.
The onslaught continued with two field goals from Morgan Hagee, a Damon Hazleton Jr. 5-yard reception from Neal, and just like that the Cardinals were up 27-0 at halftime.
After halftime, Ball State continued to push the envelope on offense in the third quarter and by the end of it the Cardinals were in an enthralling position.
James Gilbert with a short 1-yard rushing touchdown and a successful extra point by Hagee gave Ball State a 34-0 lead.
The score was Gilbert’s third TD this season and the 11th of his career — as a sophomore.
“James runs hard.” Neu said. “He’s a downhill runner. He’s that guy that when you need a tough yard, there’s a pretty darn good chance that James Gilbert’s gonna get that yard. The credit really just goes to his hard work and preparation.”
Ball State only scored once in the fourth quarter from a 1-yard Teddy Williamson rush and Hagee extra point.
Eastern Kentucky did grab a handful of points back, with a Devin Borders 28-yard reception and a 1-yard Daryl McCleskey rush.
A 41-14 final score and a very successful first day back in front of the Scheumann Stadium faithful, the Cardinals extending their consecutive home-opener wins record to eight straight.
Even though it wasn’t a shutout, the Cardinals defense was a sight to see. The Cardinals had eight sacks Saturday — the most in a game in over 10 years for a BSU defense.
With a season total of 17 sacks last year, the defense has accumulated 14 sacks so far this season. Yes, and we are only three games into the 2016-17 season.
“I know the guys would have loved to get the shutout, but our defense was fantastic, ” Neu said. “We all talked about starting fast and finishing strong.”
And that, is exactly what the Cardinals did Saturday afternoon.