You could not paint a more perfect day to play a college football game, at least as it pertains to the weather. Contrary to last week's overcast skies and the constant threat of rain, the skies over Michie Stadium were cloudless and a perfectly painted powder blue with a game time temperature of 57 degrees.
For the Black Knights, this would see the Army defense answer the call, time and time again, while the offense continues to mature as a unit; this is probably the best point in the Army schedule for that to happen.
On Ball State's first series to start the game, they were forced with a three and out, while starting from their own 20 yard line and the Black Knights' coming out with all cylinders going. Army first series saw Mealy, Steelman and Carter break off consistent runs of 4 and 5 a pop, where the Black Knights had Ball State's defense on their heels.
However, it was speedster slotback Alfred McDaniel making an early contribution. On a 2nd & 10 from Ball State's 30 yard line, McDaniel took the pitch from Steelman and scampered yards to the Ball State 10 yard, after a great downfield block by Mealy. Ball State was also called for a facemask penalty that put the ball on the 4 yard line, and two plays later, Carter walked in from one yard out, and closing out a 13 play, 80 yard opening drive that took 6:36.
Army 7 - Ball State 0
For the Black Knights, it was the second week in a row that they put seven points on the board in their opening drive and series.
On Ball State's next series, it was another three and out, but also a defense series for the Black Knights that saw a vicious hit from middle linebacker Stephen Anderson and solid pass coverage play on the part of Brad Marren. This would be one of many for Anderson, who would register a career high 15 tackles, 11 of which were solo.
However, very similar to a few momentum killers last week against Duke, the offense returns the favor and a Steelman to McDaniel pitch goes awry, which lead to the Ball State getting the ball on the Army 15 yard line.
With 3:51 remaining in the 1st quarter and out of the spread formation, Ball State quarterback Kelly Page runs for a 15 yard touchdown to tie the score.
Army 7 - Ball State 7
As 1st quarter was coming to a close, a tipped pass ends up in the hands of linebacker Andrew Rodriguez and Army opened up the 2nd quarter on the 32 yard line.
However, the Black Knights were unable to move the ball and Alex Carlton hit his 3rd field goal of the season from 45 yards out and putting Army ahead 10-7.
Once again the Cardinals answer the bell with a 14 play drive for 58 yards that consumes 6:13 from the clock, as kicker Ian McGarvey hits on a 30 yard field goal.
The Black Knights were unable to move the ball, as Ball State took procession on their own 31 yard line and 4:26 remaining on the clock in the half. Once again, it is the defense that answered the call as pressure on newly inserted quarterback Tanner Justice forced his throw and allowed cornerback Mario Hill to pull down his first career interception.
The Ali Show
With 4:18 left in the 1st half, it became the Ali Villanueva show. After a series of plays, 2:28 on the clock and faced with a 3rd & 20, Steelman drifted a pass to the 6-foot-10 receiver. Villanueva was able to maintain his concentration when it appeared that the ball would head the ground and Army's drive was still alive. It also resurrected the crowd of 25,646 and gave the Black Knights some momentum.
"We've been practicing that play a lot," shared Villanueva during his post-game comments when discussing his 3rd & 20 yard catch. "It still wasn't well executed. I need to get better. I still need to get with coach (Andy) Guyader and coach (Ian) Shields before practice. That whole transition from guard to wide receiver isn't done yet."
On 1st & 10 and with 2:05 remaining, Army went to a no huddle and Steelman pulled off an impressive play action fake and hit a wide open Villanueva on a 24 yard touchdown. That closed out a 7 play 53 yard drive that also exhausted 2:57 off the clock.
However, Page returned under center for the Cardinals and on a 2nd & 10, he was able to hit his receiver Briggs Osbon on quick sideline pass, and a missed open field tackle by Hill that was coupled by an Anderson 15 yard facemask penalty put Ball State within striking distance.
"Once again", it was time for the defense to make a difference and they responded with solid coverage that allowed for Victor Ugenyi and Anderson to track down Page, followed by Hill's blanket on his receiver on Page's end zone attempt.
The drive with 3.1 seconds remaining in the 1st half was stymied on a failed 29 yard field goal attempt, as Army heads into the half with a 17-10 lead.
Coming into the 2nd half and with a chance to enhance their lead, the Black Knights were three and out, as Ball State took over and came out with a full steam ahead attitude. Cardinals' quarterback Kelly Page lead a 7 play 66 yard drive as he was able to hit Torieal Gibson who was able to make a great catch over Jordan Trimble and even the score, 17-17.
For the Army fans, this was déjà vu all over again, as the Black Knights hit a 2nd half wall against Duke last week and it appeared the pop was just not there on either side of the ball for Army. Hoping that their second offensive series would jump start, it was another three and out, the saw another Steelman pitch to one of his slot backs go astray.
At this point in the game, both defenses held and the 3rd quarter ended deadlocked at 17-17. As Army started the 4th quarter and 1st & 10 at midfield, there was zero evidence of an offensive pulse and with 14:14 in the 4th quarter, the Cardinals had the ball on their own 28 yard, a little "MO" on their side.
This is another call for the Army defense
many that they have had to answer the first three games. However, with receivers covered, Page was able to break off a 46 yard run, but this was followed by a Ball State holding penalty, incomplete pass, a big time sack of 10 yards by Chad Thayer and on 3rd & 30, and after pressure from Anderson, Page saw his pass in the hands of free safety Donovan Travis, who extended his body to make the pick.
This was Travis' 2nd interception of the season, but would not be his last or even most significant pick of the day.
Gut check time for the offense? Yes, but again they came up empty and the Black Knights are forced to punt and defense if forced to make another stance. With an outstanding punt by Bulls to the Cardinals' 7 yard line, 17-17 tie score and 6:46 remaining in the contest, its crunch for both teams.
On 1st down, Page was pressured, and as he released his pass, Travis steps right in front of the intended receiver, made the interception and prances in from 18 yards out, which gave the Black Knights a 7 point lead.
"They were doing a lot of bootlegs and play action, and I'm responsible for any crossers and any deep posts. I saw him looking at him (receiver)," shared Travis. "I didn't think he was going to throw it because I thought he saw me. I just stepped in front of it, and then after that it was clear cut to the end zone."
But with plenty of time remaining (6:41), it was not the time for celebration, but focus. Once again, the "Swarm Storm" answered the call and pushed the Cardinals to a 4th & 15. But for the Black Knights, nothing would come easy, as Damion Hunter made a fair catch on his own 7 yard line after a 56 yard Cardinals' punt.
It is clear to everyone, that Army would be looking to run out the remaining 4:24 on the clock and send their record to 2-1.
After eight plays, the Black Knights were forced to punt from their own 46 yard line and Jonathan Bulls came through with a 41 yard punt to the Cardinals' 8 yard.
With 34.2 seconds remaining and the Black Knights in deep prevent, Ball State's last ditch effort fall short and the Black Knights record their second win of the young season.
Ball State 17
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