AKRON, OH Saturday afternoon, at the soggy Rubber Bowl, the Ball State Cardinals sent a message to the rest of the Mid-American Conference that they will be a force to contend with in this 2008 football season.
Ball St TE Darius Hill
The Cards defeated the Akron Zips 41-24 before an announced crowd of 9,013 waterlogged witnesses. The game was the beginning of Akrons 66th and final season at the facility.
The win made Ball State 3-0 for the first time since 1988 when they opened that season with five consecutive victories while winning their MAC opener for the second time in three years.
Akron (1-2) played its first home game of the season after losing its season opener at Wisconsin and then defeating Syracuse on the road last week. The Zips amassed 418 yards of total offense, their second consecutive game with over 400 yards in that category but also turned the ball over five times.
It was a good win. It is nice to be 3-0 at this point, but we have a long way to go. We have a lot of work ahead of us if we want to be a championship football team, said Cardinals head coach Brady Hoke.
Ball State had 491 yards of total offense in the contest, and were led by senior quarterback Nate Davis who passed for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Junior halfback MiQuale Lewis rushed for 154 yards, 99 of which came in the second half, and two scores. Senior wide receiver Dante Love had seven catches for 97 yards.
But in a game that saw a combined 909 yards of offense, it was a defensive player that stole the show.
Redshirt freshman safety Sean Baker, making his first collegiate start, had three interceptions and a 33-yard return of a Chris Jacquemain fumble for a touchdown. His first at the collegiate level.
Baker, a native of Canfield, Ohio, also led the Cardinals defense with nine tackles. While in High School, Baker was recruited by Zips coach J.D. Brookhart to come to Akron but decided on Ball State
It was nice to come home and play in front of my family and friends. It was a great feeling, Baker remarked.
Ball State started the game with a touchdown, driving 68 yards in just nine plays with Davis throwing his first touchdown of the game, a 21-yarder to freshman wide receiver Briggs Orsbon.
Akron responded on its first possession with a score.
After a 49-yard return by senior Brian Williams, the Zips had the ball at the Cardinals 46-yard line moving the ball to the BSU 17-yard line where the drive stalled with Igor Iveljic connecting on a 34-yard field goal to make the score 7-3.
The score remained that way until early in the second quarter when Ball State matched the Akron field goal with one of their own. Taking possession at its own 35-yard line, the Cardinals moved to the Zips' 13-yard line before Akron's defense stiffened and the Cards had to settle for a 31-yard field goal from Ian McGarvey to increase their lead to 10-3.
After an exchange of turnovers, with Akron quarterback Jacquemain being intercepted on a tip-drill by Baker at the Ball State 23-yard line, Cardinals wide receiver Dante Love fumbled a handoff which the Zips recovered at the Cards 10-yard line.
From there, Akron needed just two plays to tie the score 10-10 as running back Alex Allen went around the left side and in for the touchdown from five-yards away.
Bakers second interception of Jacquemain was the catalyst for the Cardinals taking the lead for good.
Starting from their own 37-yard line Ball State went nine plays to traverse those 63-yards with Lewis scoring his first touchdown from three yards out up the middle of the Akron defense to make the score 17-10 at halftime.
In the first 30-minutes, the teams combined for 482 total yards in soggy conditions.
On Akrons second possession of the third quarter, Jacquemain was sacked by junior defensive end Brandon Crawford forcing a fumble which Baker recovered at the Zips' 33-yard line and went in for the score to make the lead 24-10.
Craw (Brandon Crawford) made a great play. I was in the right place at the right time. We always look to scoop and score on defense, Baker said.
The Cardinals defense stopped Akron on its next possession and forced a punt. Ball State then ended the competitive phase of the game by taking the ball and moving 80 yards in seven plays with Lewis scoring his second touchdown of the game from two-yards out making the score 31-14.
In the fourth quarter, the Zips had touchdowns from running back Andrew Johnson from 26-yards away and Chris Jacquemain throwing a 13-yard score to wide receiver Andre Jones while Ball State had a touchdown with Davis throwing his second of the game, a 25-yarder to tight end Darius Hill. Ball State ended the scoring with a 32-yard field goal off the foot of McGarvey.
We certainly cant play the way we played today and beat that team Brookhart said after the game. You have to give credit to Ball State, they worked their offense and gave us some new looks defensively that forced mistakes
Jacquemain, a junior from Mentor, Ohio passed for 269 yards going 21-for-44 and a touchdown for the Zips.
Johnson, a transfer from the University of Miami (FL) led Akron in rushing with 50 yards and that fourth quarter touchdown. Receiver Deryn Bowser led the receiving corps with eight catches for 117 yards. Cornerback Miguel Graham led the defense with 12 tackles.
Next week, Ball State heads to Bloomington, Indiana for a meeting with the in-state rival Indiana Hoosiers.
Akron heads for West Point, New York to face the Cadets of Army whom they defeated in the 2007 Patriot Bowl at Cleveland 22-14.
NOTES: The win was Ball States first at the Rubber Bowl since 1997 (31-14) and with their second consecutive win in the series made the series 10-8-1 in Akrons favor.Akron is 8-9 in MAC openersIn the game, Nate Davis-BSU passed Mike Neu as the all-time yardage leader in Ball State history with 6,582 yards Davis the younger brother of Jose Davis who was a quarterback at Kent State from 1997-99Alex Allen-AKR was carried off the field on a stretcher early in the third quarter. The initial report was he suffered a hip injuryAndrew Johnson-AKR scored his second career touchdown in the fourth quarter, his other score came in 2004 for Miami (FL) against Wake Forest.