The nationally ranked Ball State football team completed a perfect regular season with a 12-0 mark by defeating Mid-American Conference rival Western Michigan 45-22 in front of a Scheumann Stadium record crowd of 23,861 Tuesday night. The league win also capped an 8-0 conference campaign for the Cardinals.
“Obviously, it’s good to win,” Ball State head coach Brady Hoke says. “I am really happy for this group of kids and this senior class to come together and accomplish what they set out to get but we’re not finished yet.”
The win set the Cardinals season high for victories with 12 and gave Ball State its first MAC West title in program history. The victory also advances the Cardinals to the MAC Championship Game, which will be played Friday, Dec. 5, at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich. Ball State will play Buffalo, the MAC East Champion.
Junior running back MiQuale Lewis ran for his third touchdown of the game with 4:31 remaining for the final score, setting the record crowd into a frenzy. Lewis broke Mark Bornholdt’s 1979 record for most rushing touchdowns in a season with 20. Compiling 120 rushing yards, Lewis also moved into sixth-place in career rushing yards with 2,297.
After getting off to a slow start, Ball State utilized a balanced attack to score on its second drive of the game. Junior quarterback Nate Davis connected with fifth-year senior wide receiver Louis Johnson three times during the nine play drive, capped by Lewis’ first rushing touchdown of the game to put the Cardinals in front, 7-0.
The Cardinals continued to build momentum as freshman safety Sean Baker recorded his team-leading sixth interception of the season at the Ball State 49-yard line.
Following the interception, Lewis converted a crucial fourth-and-one to keep the Cardinals’ third drive alive. On the very next play, Davis hooked up with Johnson for a 40-yard touchdown to push the Ball State lead to 14-0, Johnson’s fifth touchdown reception of the season.
The Broncos (9-3, 6-2 MAC) responded by committing to the run. WMU was assisted by a 40-yard kickoff return, setting up its first scoring drive from its own 47. After three consecutive runs, the Broncos used trickery to put their first points on the board. What appeared to be an option run by backup quarterback Drew Burdi turned into a 36-yard passing touchdown as Burdi hit Schneider Julien to cut the lead to 14-7.
After holding BSU to a three-and-out, the Broncos struck again to tie the game 14-14 on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Tim Hiller to Juan Nunez.
WMU appeared to have all momentum in its favor after forcing Ball State to third-and-18 following its second touchdown. However, Davis hit Briggs Orsbon for 29 yards to keep the Cardinals drive moving. Three plays later, Davis rushed for 22 yards on third-and-seven. WMU halted the Cardinals drive and BSU settled for a 43-yard field goal from sophomore placekicker Ian McGarvey, making the score 17-14.
Holding the Broncos to a three plays on their next drive, Ball State got the ball back and scored quickly. A 38-yard strike to senior tight end Darius Hill set up Davis’ six-yard rushing touchdown, his fourth of the season. The Cardinals took a 24-14 lead into halftime.
Both teams failed to get anything going offensively to begin the second half. After fifth-year senior punter Chris Miller pinned the Broncos inside their own five-yard line, the Cardinals were able to hold the WMU offense once again and gave the offense great field position at midfield.
Lewis and the Ball State offense took advantage, moving the ball to the WMU one-yard line before Lewis punched in his second touchdown as the Cardinals moved ahead, 31-14.
The Cardinals continued to pull away, intercepting Hiller for the second time. Fifth-year senior defensive back Trey Lewis returned the interception 35 yards for Ball State’s third interception return for a touchdown on the season and a 38-14 advantage. The interception was Lewis’ third of the season and 11th of his career and marked the first time Hiller was intercepted more than once in a single game this season.
WMU kept the game interesting by putting together a 12-play, 81-yard drive to start the fourth quarter and added a two-point conversion to cut the BSU lead to 38-22.
The Cardinals responded by running the ball nine times on their next drive, including a 34-yard dash by Davis, his longest of the game. Davis accumulated 337 total yards, including a career-best 64 yards rushing, and two total touchdowns.
Following the run by Davis, Lewis ran the ball six times from inside the WMU 20-yard line before reaching the endzone for his final touchdown and the final score.
Ball State will return to action when it faces Buffalo in the MAC Championship Game Dec. 5, at 8 p.m. in Detroit, Mich., on ESPN2. The national television appearance will mark the seventh time the Cardinals have played on ESPN or ESPN2 this season.