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EMU Won the Turnover Battle, Won the Game
EMU scored on two of its three takeaways to beat Ball State in a crucial MAC West showdown.
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Final: Eastern Michigan 20, Ball State 16
Finally, Eastern Michigan can walk away from a game as winners in the turnover margin: EMU 3, Ball State 1.
More importantly, EMU rode back home from Muncie, Ind. as winners on the scoreboard against its MAC West foe: EMU 20, Ball State 16.
With the win, Eastern’s record improves to 5-3 overall on the year, just one shy of bowl eligibility, and 2-2 in MAC play to keep the team’s dreams of maybe winning the division after all. There’s still more football to prove before that could happen, but it’s only possible because EMU won the turnover ball against Ball State, and scored 10 points off of those.
A tip of the hat to Quentavius Scandrett, who dropped his first interception opportunity but fielded his second chance cleanly.
A tip of the hat to Joe Sparacio, ran down a loose ball on a really bad snap by Ball State’s center. The Cardinals got within EMU’s 10-yard line in the second quarter, but a snap that flew over the QB John Paddock’s head had everybody chasing after the ball, which was recovered by Sparacio after a 19-yard swing.
And a tip of the hat to Robert Daniel Jr., who stole a Ball State pass in the fourth quarter for EMU’s third takeaway of the game. Needing just 28 yards off of the turnover, EMU turned that into points with QB Austin Smith’s second rushing TD of the year.
“Obviously we’re going to try to score every time our defense takes the ball away,” Chris Creighton said after the game. “Wherever our defense takes the ball away, it’s a good thing. I’m just so proud of them for doing that. Again, it hasn’t happened for us and it’s Week 8, but it happened today and it’s the reason why we won.”
Injuries piled, but EMU still got the job done
Without many of its key players on the field, EMU knew it couldn’t play behind in possessions on the road, and prevented Ball State from having its fourth-straight game with a second-half comeback win.
Injuries can truly hurt teams, especially when one unit misses about half of its starters or heavy contributors. We’re talking, of course, about EMU’s defense which was already without the services of S Blake Bogan, DT Alex Merritt, and DE Mikey Haney for the year, but DE Carter Evans, LB Chase Kline (the team’s leading tackler), and DE Jose Ramirez (tied for the MAC’s lead in sacks) were all unable to play against Ball State as well.
But, even without its best players, EMU still defended Ball State as well as it could’ve asked for.
The Cardinals were limited to just two touchdowns all game and didn’t let its top playmaker have any explosive plays. The longest run of RB Carson Steele’s night was for 13 yards. Sure he finished with 101 yards, but it was a quiet 101 yards. Aside from a short screen pass that he caught and scored on in the first quarter, Steele’s day was pretty minimal.
Of note, EMU’s defense,
Surrendered 103 rushing yards to Ball State in the first and third quarters, but just 11 between the second and fourth quarters (-7 in the second),
Gave up 104 passing yards in the second quarter, but just 74 through the rest of the game,
Allowed 0 pass completions in the fourth quarter,
Didn’t let any of Ball State receivers have many chunk plays. The longest pass play for Ball State traveled 32 yards to Jayshon Jackson,
And limited Ball State’s third-down success rate to just 50% (6-12).
Sparacio had a career day with 15 total tackles to lead the team.
Still, EMU’s offense out-paced
Eastern’s offense ran 80 plays for 358 yards while Ball State ran 60 for 292.
On average, EMU ran plays at 4.4 yards per play while Ball State moved along at 4.9 yards per play. Not a huge difference, but neither team was really able to light things up on offense like they’ve been able to in their previous matchups.
“It wasn’t perfect offensively, but we won the turnover-takeaway ratio,” Creighton said.
Austin Smith started at QB for EMU, and Jaylon Jackson filled in at RB for the injured Samson Evans, who was limited to just a handful of carries last week. Smith had the game-winning touchdown run, went 20/34 passing for 197 yards and was sacked four times.
Half of Smith’s completions went to WR Hassan Beydoun, who had his biggest game of the year: 10 catches for 85 yards.
“Austin (Smith) set a good tone for us even though we didn’t score on those opening two drives, his ability to read defenses in the run game and keep them honest and even be an asset and a factor in the run game makes a difference,” Creighton said of his team’s starting quarterback.
In the first half, EMU punted the ball away on four of its six drives, then scored on two of its four possessions in the second. Bryson Moss scored EMU’s first touchdown of the game in the second quarter to complete a 10- play, 76-yard drive.
This wasn’t a game where either side had many big plays on offense. This was certainly a defensive battle throughout the game where EMU got by on stealing enough possessions on the road.
Jesus Gomez ties school record
After an interception by Quentavius Scandrett on a tipped ball in Ball State’s red zone, the Eagles were in favorable enough field position to set Jesus Gomez up for a tie-breaking field goal.
The kick was good for 55 yards, and it had the distance to be longer than that.
It was the third time in EMU’s history that a 55-yard field goal was made. Dylan Mulder set the school record with one in 2015, Chad Ryland kicked a 55-yarder last year vs. Ohio, and now Gomez adds his name to the list.
Down 16-10 in the fourth quarter and after the Eagles had failed its fourth-down try on the previous drive in Ball State territory, they called on Gomez to make a 38-yarder to finish a 13-play, 70-yard drive.
The rest of the West
EMU’s got four games left, and none bigger than its upcoming home game against Toledo.
The Rockets (5-3, 3-1 MAC) suffered their first MAC loss today at Buffalo (5-3, 4-0), which means the Eagles have a chance at evening things up next week at home. If EMU is able to beat Toledo, then EMU would have a tie-breaking lead on the division with three more games left on the schedule (and be simultaneously granted bowl eligibility, but that’s less exciting of a proposal).
Should EMU lose to Toledo, then EMU will have all but lost its shot at reaching the MAC title game with two divisional losses.