A blocked field goal, two high snaps on punts (one of which the opposition landed on for a touchdown) and 10 penalties for 85 yards – that sounds like last year’s football team.
But the Owls defeated the Ball State Cardinals in their first-ever meeting, 24-19, thanks to 125 yards rushing and two touchdowns from freshman Bernard Pierce, a 28-yard pass from redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton to sophomore James Nixon and five forced turnovers.
With the win, the Owls improve to 3-2 overall but more importantly, climb to 3-0 in the Mid-American Conference.
“They stayed together,” coach Al Golden said. “I think they would prefer not to have those catastrophic breakdowns, but the things that we’re doing now are fixable. We kept our poise, and we answered back, which I think is important, and we won. We got some mental toughness, which we found out today. It was ugly at times, but we kept battling, and we won. Nobody’s going to look back a couple weeks from now at the game at how much we won by. The bottom line is we won, and we’re 3-0 in the league.”
On the sixth play of the game-opening drive, Cardinals senior running back MiQuale Lewis fumbled the ball. After 13 plays, Owls freshman kicker Brandon McManus connected on a 27-yard field goal attempt.
Temple increased its lead to 10-0 with the 28-yard touchdown pass from Charlton to Nixon a third of the way through the first quarter.
Then, last year’s football team reappeared.
Between that Charlton pass and Pierce’s rushing touchdown halfway through the third quarter, Ball State scored 13 of its 19 points and even took the lead, 13-10, at one point.
A 20-play series by the Owls at the start of the second quarter ended in a blocked field goal.
“There was some penetration on that field goal,” Golden said. “But the kick never got more than four feet off the ground, so it wouldn’t have mattered. The ball would have hit our own linemen anyway.”
After a series of punts and the first of two interceptions by junior free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, the Owls entered halftime ahead, 10-0.
But Ball State’s freshman quarterback Kelly Page threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Torieal Gibson to get the Cardinals on the board, 10-7.
And on fourth-and-2 from the 46-yard line on Temple’s next drive, the snap sailed over junior punter Jeff Wathne’s head and into the endzone, where freshman Eric Williams landed on it for a touchdown and a 13-10 Ball State lead.
“Everybody looks at records, but you have to know where that team was and what they experienced last year,” Golden said. “We haven’t experienced any of that yet – the MAC Championship game, a bowl game, a Top 25 ranking.”
At that point, the Owls gave the ball to Pierce six times in their next nine plays, and he responded with a two-yard touchdown. The Owls led, 17-13. Pierce tacked on another touchdown later in the fourth, and Ball State added a meaningless one as time expired.
“You don’t win the league in October,” Golden said. “You can lose the league in October, and we’ve found many ways to do that. We’ve written a book on that.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at email@example.com.