The Eastern Michigan University football team fell 33-31 at home Saturday for the first time this season against the Cardinals of Ball State.
The loss hurts the Eagles’ chances at a bowl game by dropping its record to 5-4 (3-2 MAC). Ball State, however, increased its chances for a bowl game by running its record to 6-4 (4-2 MAC). The point of emphasis for this game is the Eagles gained 513 yards on offense despite being defeated.
“We shouldn’t lose these types of games after gaining more than 500 yards on offense,” head coach Ron English said.
Quarterback Alex Gillett had his best game as an Eagle, completing 12 of 17 passes for 196 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for 126 yards. As efficient as the offense was, mental mistakes on defense and special teams ultimately hurt the Eagles.
The scoring was started by the Cardinals with a 94-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Keith Wenning to wide receiver Toriel Gibson. That drive for the Cardinals started at their own one yard line.
EMU answered immediately on its next drive as they drove the ball for a six-play 68-yard drive that was capped off with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Gillett to Trey Hunter.
Both teams recorded touchdown drives of over 70 yards on their next drives to keep the score tied at 14-14.
BSU began the second quarter with a Steven Schott 31-yard field goal to give the Cardinals a 17-14 lead, which would hold up until EMU scored a touchdown on one of Gillett’s two touchdown passes of the game to true freshman tight end Tyreese Russell, which give the Eagles their first lead of the game at 21-17 with 1:47 remaining in the first half.
Special teams broke down on the ensuing kickoff, as the Cardinal returner took the ball 78 yards to the EMU 15-yard line. The defense stayed strong by holding BSU to a field goal to keep the Eagle 21-20 lead at halftime.
The Eagles took the opening kickoff of the second half and managed to drive the ball down to the Ball State 43-yard line.
A failure on fourth down and two yards gave the Cardinals the ball back and they took advantage of the good field position. The no-huddle offense worked to perfection against the Eagles’ defense and ended with a Jahwan Edwards 15-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals the lead back. The Cardinals settled for the extra point rather than the two-point conversion to give Ball State a six point lead.
Two possessions later, the Eagles found a rhythm with a 13-play, 88-yard drive that ended with a Gillett to Nick Olds 18-yard touchdown completion to regain the lead.
The next drive for the Cardinals ended with a Bryan Pali interception on the Ball State 35-yard line, but personal fouls moved the ball back to the EMU 45, and a three and out prevented the Eagles from scoring on a good opportunity.
Pass interference and illegal hands-to-the-face penalties helped the Cardinals on their next drive take the ball to the EMU five yard line, where they settled for a field goal after the Eagles’ defense nearly picked off a pass in the end zone.
With the score at 28-30 in favor of the Cardinals with over six minutes to go, the Eagles’ offense took the ball on another 13-play, 68-yard drive down to the Ball State one yard line. Three plays later the Eagles failed to get into the end zone and settled for a field goal to go back on top 31-30 with a 1:18 remaining in the game.
The Cardinals started their next offensive drive and had a third down situation negated on a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Eagles.
“We can’t have penalties and mental mistakes like that, especially when your team needs a stop,” English said.
The Eagles did have one more chance to stop Ball State, as they had a fourth down and five situation at the EMU 40-yard line, but the Cardinals converted it and went for the game winning 44-yard field goal on the next play. The attempt appeared to be blocked, but Schott still converted the attempt with nine seconds remaining, which stood final.
“We struggled a bit on defense, we couldn’t get the stops when we needed to,” English said.
The Eagles still need to win at least two more games to ensure a bowl game. When asked about the goal of making a bowl game, English said, “We have goals that we still want to meet, and the players know their goals.”
The Eagles finish their home schedule next week as they host Buffalo at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Rynearson Stadium. The Eagles will honor their departing seniors Saturday as well.