Muncie, Ind. — Nate Davis threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns Saturday to help Ball State hold off Western Kentucky University and earn a 35-12 win over the Hilltoppers at Scheumann Stadium.
Davis completed 21-of-31 passes, including throwing for a score in the third quarter after the Hilltoppers closed a 14-point first-quarter deficit to two, as the Cardinals improved to 4-3 following the first meeting between the two schools since 1929. He hit seven different receivers in the contest, including finding Darius Hill and Dante Love six times apiece.
WKU — which fell to 3-3 on the year — collected 411 yards of total offense after rushing for 222 and adding 189 through the air.
The Toppers scored all of their points in the second quarter to get back in the contest after giving up a pair of touchdown marches in the first 15 minutes. On their first drive after BSU had taken a 14-0 lead, the Hilltoppers moved 65 yards in 10 plays before K.J. Black found Curtis Hamilton for a 12-yard score 11-and-a-half minutes before the break. It was the first touchdown catch of the season for Hamilton, who ended the day with team-high totals of eight receptions and 83 yards as he moved into the top five on the school’s all-time catch list.
The WKU defense then got the ball back on three occasions before the half, the last time when Dusty Bear intercepted a pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage — he returned it 16 yards, but was lost for the game when he was injured on a late hit out of bounds. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by Marcus Minor while finishing with three stops.
The turnover would lead to a season-long 46-yard field goal from Chris James with 3:21 remaining that drew the Hilltoppers within five points, 14-9. The defense then forced a three-and-out, and after Jake Gaebler ran back the ensuing punt 28 yards the Toppers moved 39 yards in less than two minutes before James hit from 35 yards to make it a two-point deficit at the break.
The Hilltoppers outgained BSU 191-146 in the first half while holding the ball for just under 19 minutes.
The Hilltoppers looked to take a one-point lead midway through the third quarter, but after a 46-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left the Cardinals marched 73 yards in 11 plays before Frank Edmonds’ one-yard touchdown run with just over four minutes to go in the period extended the BSU edge to 21-12. The Cards didn’t allow a first down, then added to their lead exactly one minute later when Davis and Louis Johnson connected on a 41-yard scoring pass.
WKU threatened again early in the fourth period, but after two Tyrell Hayden runs put the Toppers on the BSU-1 Bryant Haines and Brandon Crawford stopped the running back on third down for no gain before Alex Knipp broke up a pass intended for David Miller on fourth-and-goal.
Haines and Mike Dorulla posted 14 stops apiece for a Cardinal defense that was on the field for 87 plays. Knipp was credited with 11 stops.
Hayden led all players with 91 yards on 24 carries, adding six more yards on two catches. Hamilton ran for 40 yards in finishing with a team-best 123 all-purpose yards, while Stephen Willis chipped in with 37 yards on the ground and Black added 34.
Love had 91 yards receiving, and he also racked up 81 on three kick returns. Hill finished with 73 yards through the air, and Edmonds paced the BSU ground attack with 48 yards on 16 attempts after closing out the scoring with a one-yard run in the final three minutes.
Andre Lewis led the Hilltoppers with 10 stops, with Blake Boyd supplying nine tackles. In addition to the two plays involving Bear, Jon Belcher recovered a Davis fumble that was forced by Rashad Etheridge to account for the other turnover recorded by the defense.
There were five punts in the opening eight-and-a-half minutes as WKU held the Cardinals without a first down until their third possession. Following a 24-yard return by B.J. Hill that put BSU at midfield, Davis marched the Cards down the field in six plays, hitting Johnson for a 21-yard touchdown one play after finding Love for seven yards on 4th-and-5.
The touchdown catches were Johnson’s only receptions of the game.
BSU doubled its advantage just before the end of the period. After taking over at the 39-yard line, the Cardinals gained one yard on their first two plays before a personal foul on third down allowed the drive to continue. Davis connected with Koreen Burch for a gain of 15 yards and another first down, then found Love for a 40-yard score with 37 seconds left in the quarter.
Quinterrance Cooper collected 99 kick return yards while catching two passes for 21 more to post a triple-digit all-purpose figure for the second straight game, while Gaebler recorded 95 total yards after catching four balls for 43 and running back three punts for another 52. Jessie Quinn also had four catches as Black was 20-of-29 passing for 184 yards.
Jeremy Moore averaged a career-best 48.2 yards on four punts to lead the Hilltoppers’ special teams units, while the Cardinals’ Chris Miller countered by averaging 47.6 yards on five kicks.
WKU will face Indiana State Saturday at 1 p.m. (CDT) in Terre Haute in the last of four straight road games.