Hilltoppers run with Duncan, beat Ball State for season's first win

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MUNCIE, Ind. —  Steven Duncan came off the bench to play quarterback and lead Western Kentucky to its first win of the season, a 28-20 triumph over Ball State at Scheumann Stadium.

The Hilltoppers (1-3) trailed 20-14 with 8:39 to play, but Duncan, in for injured starter Davis Shanley who was starting for injured original starter Drew Eckels, led the pivotal drive of the game to put WKU up for good. His 18-yard touchdown toss to tight end Mik’Quan Deane proved to be the difference.

Redshirt-freshman running back Joshua Samuel scored from five yards out with 59 seconds left to provide the final margin. Samuel finished with 91 yards on 19 carries.

Western Kentucky (1-3) returns home at 6:30 p.m. Saturday to begin Conference USA play against Marshall.

Down 14-13 to begin the fourth quarter Ball State put together a 70-yard scoring drive to retake the lead at 20-14. Quarterback Riley Neal threw out into the left flat for Corey Lacanaria while Western’s defense scrambled to get into position. Lacaneria high-stepped in from six yards out with 8:39 to play.

Duncan came back out and led another masterful drive, this one lasting 11 plays and covering 75 yards. He polished it off with an 18-yard strike to Deane on a wheel route to make it 21-20 with 4:41 to play.

Western’s defense took over from there to shut down BSU the final 4 1/2 minutes of the game.

Duncan finished 12 of 16 passing for 94 yards and with 55 yards rushing. Lucky Jackson caught eight balls for 91 yards.

After Ball State’s defense forced a WKU punt to open the game, the BSU offense scored in efficient fashion to take an early lead. Malik Dunner’s 1-yard run on 3rd-and-goal capped an 80-yard, 13-play drive that are nearly six minutes of clock to put the Cardinals ahead 7-0.

The Hilltoppers came back to tie the game at 7-7 with 5:16 to go in the half thanks to a Gino Appleberry 2-yard scoring plunge. That capped a nine-play, 73-yard drive that included a 41-yard pass from Shanley to Lucky Jackson and a 9-yard Shanley scramble on third down in the red zone.

Ball State responded with a 43-yard field goal from Morgan Hagee with 1:34 left in the half. The Cardinals’ scoring drive was aided by Dionte Ruffin’s pass interference penalty on a 3rd-and-25 pass.

The Cardinals would be content to take that slim lead into the break.

Ball State opened the third quarter with a 15-play drive that lasted nearly six minutes and ended with a 25-yard Hagee field goal. A 28-yard run by Neal on third down and 17-yard pass from Neal to Riley Miller on third down kept the series alive.

At that point, Duncan came off the bench and led the Tops on a 13-play drive, 75-yard drive that eventually gave the Tops the lead. Duncan rushed for 54 yards in the series and shoveled a 4-yard touchdown pass to Deane making it 14-13 with 2:45 to go in the third quarter.

Western entered the fourth quarter with that one-point lead.


Western Kentucky starting left tackle Cole Spencer and running back D’Andre Ferby both missed Saturday’s game at Ball State due to injury.

Spencer, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound sophomore, started the final five games of the season in 2017 at right tackle and the first three games of the season this year at left tackle. Redshirt-junior Parker Howell started in place of Spencer on Saturday.

Ferby, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound redshirt-senior, injured his shoulder late in Saturday’s loss at Louisville. He had rushed for 74 yards on 16 carries, his highest yardage total since Nov. 7, 2015.

An Ensworth School (Tenn.) graduate, Ferby has 1,126 rushing yards in his career and 14 rushing TDs – and he’s currently the last WKU running back to score a rushing touchdown. Ferby missed the 2016 season after suffering a shoulder injury on his first carry of the year.

Shanley started at quarterback over redshirt-senior Drew Eckels who is out with a shoulder injury. On Tuesday, Marquez Trigg, a redshirt-junior running back, announced he had left the program and intends to transfer in December.


• Under Mike Sanford, WKU is now 3-6 in road games, 3-4 in September, 1-5 when trailing after the first quarter, 2-3 in day games and 6-3 when leading after the third quarter.

• Appleberry’s second quarter rushing touchdown was the first rushing touchdown by a WKU running back since Oct. 28 when Ferby scored from 11 yards out with 6:52 left in the second quarter against Florida Atlantic.

• Duncan’s 27-yard, third-quarter run was WKU’s first of 20 yards or more since Anthony Wales’ 32-yard run in the third-quarter against Memphis in the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 20, 2016.

• Western Kentucky and Ball State met Saturday for the fifth time and just the second time in Muncie, Ind. The two teams had split the previous four matchups and the had Tops lost 35-12 their last visit to BSU before Saturday’s win.

• Attendance was announced as 15,873.

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop