By: Alec Runyan
Ball State Sports Link
The Ball State Cardinals ended the Army Black Knight’s undefeated season on Saturday after jumping out to an early first quarter lead and holding on for a 28-16 win in a total team effort.
Army came into Scheumann Stadium sporting a perfect 4-0 record behind its unorthodox offense averaging 39 points per game. Unlike most other college football teams, Army’s offense is dominated by the option run game, rather than the pass, creating an unusual week of preparation for opposing defenses.
“Tyler Stockton’s running around the practice field on Thursday with a helmet, an Army helmet and he’s cutting (blocking) guys as they’re stretching and it was just a mindset,” head Coach Mike Neu explains. “You know you’re going to be tested, your mental toughness will certainly have to be stronger than ever, your stamina will be stronger than ever. There’s going to be periods of times as an offensive when you’re going to be sitting on the sideline for a long time and you got to stay in it, you got to stay loose, you got to be ready, you got to make the most out of the opportunities that you have.”
In their first four games of the season, the Black Knights hadn’t been behind at any point so far.
That changed quickly however when Justin Hall received the opening kick and found a seam down the middle of the field. After a burst of speed and breaking out of a shoe string tackle, Hall would not be caught running nearly the length of the field on his to a 99-yard touchdown return. The first of his historic career.
Riding that momentum, the Cardinals defense would force a turnover on downs stopping Army’s offense on its on 44-yard line setting up Drew Plitt and company for great field position.
On Ball State’s first offensive play from scrimmage, Drew Plitt found Cincinnati transfer Jayshon Jackson breaking free down the sideline for his first career touchdown as a Cardinal.
Jackson hit a beautiful stop-and-go route, breaking down the Army defensive back and blowing past him for an easy pitch and catch to put Ball State up 14-0 just minutes into the opening quarter.
After a quick three and out for Army forcing them to punt the ball back, Ball State would score its third touchdown in just three possessions.
Not quite as exciting as a one play, 44-yard drive for a touchdown but just as effective – the Cardinals ended a methodical 10-play drive with a two-yard touchdown for running back Carson Steele, his fourth on the year.
However, Army’s offense seemed to find its rhythm as their next two possessions resulted in touchdowns. Led by quarterback Tyhier Tyler, the Black Knights controlled the ball for all but about three minutes in the second quarter going for drives of 75 and 80 yards, totaling 26 plays between the two.
After what was an explosive first half at times from both teams, the second half was a completely different story as the two defense battled it out for the next 30 minutes.
Led by a very deep linebacker crew, Ball State’s defense looked as good as it ever has over the past two seasons during Saturday’s second half.
The Cardinals had three linebackers in double-digit tackles before the final whistle, redshirt junior Cole Pearce leading the way with a career-high 14.
“He’s an animal, he’s all over the place” quarterback Drew Plitt said with a smile when asked about Pearce in practice. “He’s got great eyes and I think just seeing him out there today and making all of those plays, there’s no surprise to anybody inside this building.”
Just behind Pearce was Clayton Coll with 12 and Jaylin Thomas with 11. Coll, who has seen his role increase significantly over the past few weeks, has had back-to-back weeks with 10 plus tackles and multiple tackles for a loss.
After 152 rushing yards in the first half, Army was held to just 61 in the second forcing them to throw the ball down the stretch more than it would’ve liked. This only played into the Cardinals favor as they would go on to intercept the ball twice in the final two quarters.
Graduate transfer from Illinois State and Muncie Central alum, Trenton Hatfield made his first big play as a Cardinal with a diving interception right in front of the Ball State sideline midway through the third.
Fifth-year senior Bryce Cosby appears to be on his way to another season ending with All-MAC honors once again after picking up his first interception of the year to go along with five tackles, one tackle for a loss. Cosby’s interception came with just under nine minutes left in the game and Ball State capitalized on its opportunity.
With great field position once again, Plitt targeted Yo’Heinz Tyler three times, connecting twice for another quick score. First for a 27-yard completion, followed up by an incredible one-handed catch on a jump ball in the back corner by Tyler.
Tyler, who scored a touchdown in each of Ball State’s last seven games a season ago, finally got his first of the season. The senior receiver finished with a game-high 85 yards on five catches and the one touchdown.
Down two touchdowns halfway through the fourth quarter is not the ideal situation for Army’s run heavy offense as Ball State’s defense continued to dominate the rest of the game.
Ball State looks to carry this momentum to Kalamazoo next Saturday as they head back into conference play for the remaining regular season schedule.
The Cardinals (2-3, 0-1 MAC) will kick off against the Broncos at 3:30 next Saturday, October 9.