BY CORY STACE | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
Things Looking Up Early
Akron won the coin toss to open the game, but chose to defer to the second half giving Ball State an early opportunity. Ball State capitalized.
The Cardinals pounded the ball early, handing off to James Gilbert eight times for 59 yards on the first drive.
The successful drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown keeper by Riley Neal near the goal line as the offense line created a solid push up front.
Everything was looking up for Gilbert and the offensive line with great pushes all drive, churning out yards against one of the worst run defenses in the Mid-American Conference.
The Zips’ Big Play Offense
The first quarter was owned by Ball State in time of possession with the Cardinals possessing the ball for 12:51 compared to Akron only holding the ball for 2:09.
After a Morgan Hagee field goal put Ball State up 10-0 over the Zips, Akron didn’t need much time to respond with a signature big play.
Akron converted on two third-down conversions to set up a 45-yard touchdown scamper by Van Edwards to put the Zips right back into the contest 10-7.
Edwards broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage to dash his way outside, using his speed for the rest of the run. Edwards sprinted down the sideline to dive for the pylon giving Akron its first score.
Gilbert’s Touchdowns Keep on Mounting
With only four possessions for both teams in the first half, it came down to the scoring plays as the Cardinals ground game continued to work.
Gilbert came into Saturday’s game tied for fourth in the nation with ten touchdowns on the season. Gilbert elevated the count to 11 with an 18-yard rushing touchdown midway through the second quarter.
With tremendous blocking to help, Gilbert used his incredible vision to finish the 18-yard shifty run bouncing to the outside after gaining a block from wide receiver Jordan Hogue.
With the score, Ball State maintained command of the first half with a 17-7 lead into halftime.
Akron Crawling Back
Akron’s offense came out firing in the second half with an early 1-yard touchdown run, and a 23-yard touchdown throw to put the Zips on top 21-17.
It seemed that Ball State’s defense was on their heels as the Zips had success through the air. JoJo Natson caught a 23-yard crossing route to put Akron on top.
With Akron’s formation, Natson was matched up in a man-to-man battle with Ball State safety Corey Hall. Natson beat Hall with speed running across the field to haul in the 23-yard touchdown.
With Ball State’s offense coming out stale, Akron took advantage to take the lead over the Cardinals with a lethal passing attack on both drives.
Akron Uses Trickery
With Halloween coming up next week, Akron brought out the trick plays to give them a 28-17 lead over the Cardinals.
Zips’ quarterback Thomas Woodson handed the ball off to Manny Morgan, sweeping to the right for Morgan to find Austin Wolf wide open at the front of the end zone for an easy toss and catch to give Akron the two possession lead.
If the Cardinals dominated the first half with play and time of possession, the second half was all Akron with the passing attack leaving Ball State confused.
Ball State Not Out Yet
With Akron leading by 11 with 7:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals orchestrated a 7 play, 80-yard drive in just over two minutes.
The drive ended with a 17-yard touchdown snag by unsung hero Aaron Hepp who hauled in just his second touchdown of his career as a redshirt senior on the roster.
Hepp beat the outside corner on a double move faking a curl route at the 10-yard line to get the corner cheating up for an interception.
After a pump fake, Neal was able to loft a pass into the end zone for Hepp to run under it for an easy touchdown to cut the Akron lead to three after a successful two-point conversion.
Akron Picks Up the Fourth Down
The biggest play of the game comes on a controversial ruling with Akron leading 28-25 at the time.
Ball State held the Zips on third down at the Akron 48-yard line to force a tough decision for Akron’s head coach, Terry Bowden. Bowden decided to go for it, bringing in dual threat quarterback Tra’Von Chapman in a wildcat formation.
Chapman picked up the fourth down conversion from the initial look, but while extending the football forward, the ball came lose with Ball State recovering. The ruling on the field was that Chapman was down by contact on the play.
The review went up to the booth, where there was not sufficient evidence to overturn the call because of Ball State defenders blocking the officials view to see Chapman’s knees on the play.
After the pick up on fourth down, Akron took a shot deep with a huge catch from JoJo Natson to ice the game against the Cardinals.
The loss marked the fourth of the season for Ball State, and it was the third consecutive loss for the Cardinals where the game seemed to come down to one play.