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Cardinals suffer 35-31 loss in final minutes at WMU

By MICHAEL CLARK - Ball State Athletics Dept.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Facing a 21-10 deficit at halftime, the Ball State football team stormed back to take the lead and held a three-point advantage with under four minutes to play in a pivotal Mid-American Conference game against Western Michigan.

However, the Cardinals were unable to preserve that lead as the host Broncos scored on their final drive to secure the 35-31 win Tuesday night at Waldo Stadium.

Despite the setback, Ball State (4-5, 3-2 MAC) was able to establish a dominant run game in the second half, earning 203 of its 261 rushing yards in the final 30 minutes. Caleb Huntley led the way with 120 yards on the ground and a touchdown while Walter Fletcher chipped in 72 yards and a score of his own.

“The formula for us in the second half was doing a good job running the football,” said Ball State head coach Mike Neu. “We were very physical, and we were finishing drives. Unfortunately, at the end there in an obvious passing situation, we struggled in protection.”

The Ball State defense surrendered a total of 382 yards on the ground and 506 total yards. The Cardinals put themselves in favorable positions all night to get stops but allowed the Broncos to convert 10-of-16 third downs and twice on fourth down to sustain drives throughout the game.

Both halves started picturesque for the Cardinals as Huntley punched in a five-yard score on Ball State’s first drive of the game. It was the first time BSU scored on its opening possession this season.

In the second half, Malik Dunner returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to start the Cardinals’ run. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown for Ball State since 2017 when Dunner accomplished the feat against UAB.

The Cardinals scored on their next possession via a one-yard Drew Plitt quarterback sneak to take a 24-21 advantage. From there, the two teams traded leads the rest of the night with WMU (6-4, 4-2) capturing the final advantage with just 1:05 remaining on the clock.

Ball State managed only five yards on its final possession and turned the ball over on downs which led to the Broncos running out the clock.

As a team, Ball State finished the night with 409 total yards. The offense went 3-of-3 in the red zone and took care of the ball with zero turnovers. The defense tallied five tackles for loss, including one sack.

Dunner’s electric kick return wasn’t the only bright spot on special teams as Ryan Rimmler connected on a career-long, 44-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.

“We fought our tails off, but we’ve got to get back in here and learn from the tape,” Neu added. “We have a little extended time here before we play next week. Every week gets tougher in this league and our guys have got to continue to fight.”

That extended break comes in the form of 11 days before Ball State’s next game. The Cardinals will look to bounce back when Central Michigan visits Muncie Saturday, Nov. 16. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. ET. The game can be viewed on CBS Sports Network and heard on 104.1 WLBC.

For the most up-to-date news on the Ball State football team, please follow @BallStateSports, @BallStateFB and @BSUCoachNeu.