BY CONNOR ONION | Radio Voice of Ball State Football on WCRD 91.3 FM
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The Ball State football team hopes to play spoiler in the season finale when the Cardinals make the short trip to Miami to take on the Redhawks. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3 at 7 p.m.
Cohesive Zack Ryan Anchors Defense One Last Time
Ball State fields 23 seniors for the final time Tuesday night against Miami (OH).
The triumvirate of linebackers – Sean Wiggins, Zack Ryan and Aaron Taylor – has played as much football as anyone on the roster.
Ryan began his career as a preferred walk-on in 2012, coming to Muncie in the shadow of his brother Connor, a four-year letter winner at wide receiver for the Cardinals.
As a redshirt in his first year on campus, Ryan evolved into one of the most reliable linebackers Ball State has seen in recent memory.
As a first year player in 2013, Ryan was named a starter — a role he hasn’t relinquished since. Even with an injured hand wrapped in a cast as a sophomore, Ryan refused to sit out, leading the team in tackles.
As a senior Ryan received the commendation of a new coaching staff. Defensive Coordinator Tim Daost called the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Ryan the ‘best pound-for-pound linebacker in the country.’
Ryan is BSU’s active leader in career tackles with 314.
Kevonn Mabon Etching His Name in History
When Kevonn Mabon caught his first career touchdown Oct. 27, 2012, he was considered the fifth-best pass catcher on the team.
Fast-forward four years and Mabon has cemented his place amongst the best pass catchers in Cardinals’ history.
In his final career game Tuesday night, Mabon needs six catches to surpass Dante Ridgeway for the most receptions in school history.
The senior captain was held at bay early in the season, waiting until Week 10 to haul in his first touchdown pass of 2016.
However, he has saved his best work for last. Over the past two weeks, Mabon has 19 receptions for 200 yards and three total touchdowns.
The Ball State coaching staff has also found creative ways to increase the St. Louis native’s touches this season, lining him up at quarterback, using screens and calling his number on reverses.
Mabon’s production will be missed, but his most enduring impact has been left on freshman wide receiver Damon Hazelton.
“Damon couldn’t have a better role model than Kevonn Mabon,” Head Coach Mike Neu said this week.
Mabon has mentored Hazelton to a breakout rookie campaign. Despite not playing a snap against Georgia State in Week 1, Hazelton is second on the team with 50 receptions for 490 yards and a team-leading four touchdowns.
This season it was Mabon’s responsibility to replace the production of All-MAC wide receiver Jordan Williams.
Next fall, it will be Mabon’s protégée with the target on his back.
Red Bird Rivalry
“When I was a player, we had some battles with Miami,” Neu said. “We did not like each other very much.”
Since 1998, the Miami (OH)-Ball State rivalry has simmered due to scheduling realignment, but the old foes may re-channel their hostility for each other in the coming years.
Announced last week, the RedHawks and Cardinals will begin a trophy game in 2017 entitled ‘Red Bird Rivalry.’
The game has been given “rivalry status” by the Mid-American Conference, meaning the teams will play an East-West crossover game every single year.
The only other true rivalry in the MAC is the perennial I-75 matchup between Bowling Green and Toledo.
“The geographic proximity and athletic histories of the two schools make this rivalry game a natural,” Ball State Director of Athletics Mark Sandy said. “We look forward to playing the RedHawks each season.”
Before the rivalry series officially commences, Ball State will try to defeat Miami for the fifth-straight time in Oxford.