The Eastern Michigan University football team was on the road Saturday, Oct, 22, for a Mid-American Conference West showdown with Ball State University. The Eagles were able to win as the away team for the third consecutive time in a back-and-forth struggle with the Cardinals that resulted in the 20-16 EMU win.
Neither team was able to put points on the board in the first quarter of play, which would contribute to the unusual low-scoring affair between these two schools. The previous six games between EMU and Ball State had averaged 68.5 total points before they combined for only 36 in Saturday's contest.
On the contrary, the second quarter would be the highest-scoring segment of the game. Ball State would find the endzone on the first play of the quarter on an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback John Paddock to running back Carson Steele to cap a 7-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
The remainder of the first half would belong to the Eagles who would go on to score twice and force two interceptions to close out the second quarter. The first score for the Eagles came from sophomore running back Bryson Moss on a 4-yard touchdown run up the middle. The game-tying score was also the first of Moss's career.
Sophomore defensive back Quentavius Scandrett hauled in his first-ever collegiate interception on a Ball State pass that was tipped into the air with just 19 seconds remaining in the half. Scandrett returned the picked-off-pass 34-yards to allow the Eagles’ offense to set up freshman kicker Jesus Gomez to kick an EMU record-tying 55-yard field goal as time expired to make the score 10-7. The go-ahead kick for Gomez is also tied for the second-longest field goal in the NCAA this season.
After Ball State controlled the opening drives of the second half on both sides of the ball and scored a touchdown late in the third quarter to make the score, 16-10, in favor of the cardinals, EMU would find themselves in need of a comeback. That effort started with an exceptional special teams play made by junior defensive lineman Sterling Miles who was able to block a PAT for the second time this season.
Jesus Gomez then added three points to the Eagles’ total on a 38-yard field goal on the team's next offensive possession that would take the game into the fourth quarter and make the score, 16-13.
Ball State only had the ball back for two snaps before giving possession again to EMU for the defense’s second interception and third turnover of the afternoon. This time it was senior defensive back Robert Daniels Jr. who managed to bring down the pick for the Eagles, marking the second of his career.
Saturday's contest was the first time the EMU defense produced multiple interceptions in a single game since Nov. 19, 2019, when the Eagles forced three Huskie picks at Northern Illinois University.
EMU would capitalize on Daniels Jr.'s play, as sophomore quarterback Austin Smith iced the game on a designed quarterback-keeper play that found paydirt from two yards out to give the Eagles a 20-16 lead that they would not relinquish. The sophomore quarterback accumulated a total of 52 rushing yards in the matchup, a number that would lead all Eagles in rushing. Smith would also add 197 yards through the air, which is a new career-high.
85 of Austin Smith's passing yards would come on behalf of senior wide receiver Hassan Beydoun, who finished with a season-high of 10 receptions. Beydoun’s 10-catch day crushes his previous 4-reception high of this season and is his best outing since he caught 11 passes against Liberty in last years Lending Tree bowl on Dec. 18, 2021.
The defense’s team performance was instrumental in the Eagle's success. The 16 points allowed is the second-best effort by the EMU defense in the team's 2022-23 campaign. The defense also added three takeaways on two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Senior linebacker Joe Sparacio led the Eagles’ defensive unit in tackles for the second straight game, this time racking up a career-high 15 tackles. Sparacio was also the defender who jumped on the football when the Ball State center snapped the ball high over the quarterback's head, for his first career fumble recovery and EMU's first fumble recovery since Oct. 8, against Western Michigan.
Up next, the Eagles return to Rynearson Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 29 to take on the Toledo Rockets with an opportunity to move into first place in the MAC West standings and keep aspirations of playing in the program’s first MAC Championship game alive. Kickoff is slated for noon and coverage will be available on ESPNU.
For more information on the Eastern Michigan Football team, you can visit EMUeagles.com.