Bowling Green, Ky. — Twenty-fifth ranked Ball State scored 17 points in the second half and held the Western Kentucky University football team scoreless until the final minute of play in a 24-7 win at Saturday night at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
The loss was the third straight for WKU, as they fell to 2-5 on the season. The Cardinals improved to 7-0.
"Ball State is a very good football team, and you just can’t turn the ball over like we did against a club like that. On top of that, our defense couldn’t force any turnovers," said Hilltopper head coach David Elson. "It’s very, very frustrating. We are doing some good things, we just haven’t been able to get over the hump."
The Cardinals held a slim 7-0 lead at intermission, but cranked up the offense in the final 30 minutes of play. BSU was able to go 64 yards on just eight plays on their opening drive of the period, but the drive stalled inside the WKU five, and the Cardinals missed a field goal to keep it a one-score game.
After not punting at all in the first half, the Hilltoppers were forced to kick on their first two drives after halftime. Following the first kick, Ball State was again able to move the ball effectively, going 71 yards on just six plays, getting into the end zone for the second time when MiQuale Lewis scored from one yard out to make it a 14-0 game with 6:14 remaining in the third quarter.
Lewis finished the game with 112 rushing yards on 18 carries with the one touchdown.
WKU missed a scoring opportunity early in the fourth quarter when Tanner Siewert’s 50-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right. The ensuing possession resulted in another Cardinal score as Ian McGarvey connected on a 37-yard field goal with 8:06 to play in the game.
The Hilltoppers turned the ball over on downs deep in their own territory on the next possession, leading to a quick Cardinal score. After getting the ball on the WKU 23, Ball State scored on just its second play — a 20-yard pass from Nate Davis to Louis Johnson — to make it a 24-0 game.
WKU was able to break up the shutout in the closing minute of play, however. It was able to move 72 yards in just eight plays, with David Wolke going 5-for-6 through the air on the drive. On 3rd and seven, he found Jake Gaebler in the front corner of the end zone as the Toppers made the final margin 24-7 with just 58 seconds remaining.
Gaebler finished the contest with a game-high 10 catches for 100 yards. It was the first 100-yard receiving game by a Hilltopper this season, and the most catches in a game by a Topper in 2008.
The Hilltopper offense was able to move the ball on their first two drives — collecting 126 yards — but came up empty in a pair of chances to take an early lead. WKU picked up 80 yards on the opening drive of the game, picking up first downs on its first three snaps of the contest. After getting down in the red zone on just nine plays, Dexter Taylor’s run to paydirt was fumbled out of the end zone, resulting in a touchback and a WKU turnover.
Another solid drive on the second possession of the game resulted in a missed 42-yard field goal.
After going three-and-out on its first possession, Ball State was able to put together the only scoring drive of the opening half, marching 75 yards in 10 plays. The scoring drive ended when Davis found Briggs Orsbon for a five-yard touchdown pass as the Cardinals took a 7-0 lead with 13:50 remaining in the half.
In all, the Hilltoppers picked up 221 yards of total offense in the first half, while holding Ball State to just 128 yards. WKU was able to move the ball into Cardinal territory on each of its first four possessions, with the other two drives ending with a second lost fumble and a turnover on downs.
Despite he loss, the Hilltoppers racked up 352 yards of total offense — just three yards less than Ball State. Wolke finished the game 17-for-29 through the air for 161 yards. He also threw both a touchdown and an interception. Davis completed 14 of his 22 passes for 155 yards and two scores.
Defensively, Taurean Smith led the Hilltoppers with a game-high 10 tackles.
WKU will continue its three-game homestand next Saturday (Oct. 18) hosting defending Sun Belt Conference and New Orleans Bowl champion Florida Atlantic at 6 p.m. (CDT).