Ball State (2-1) redshirt senior defensive back David Moore crept toward the line on third-and-goal.
Tennessee Tech (0-3) was on the 14-yard line late in the fourth quarter after a holding penalty, an obvious passing situation, and the Cardinals already had three sacks in the game.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Andre Sale took the snap and dropped back. Moore exploded off the edge, completely unblocked, and sacked Sale for a loss of 10 yards.
Sale’s shot to the end zone on fourth down fell incomplete and the Cardinals ran out the clock on the next possession to seal the 28-13 victory.
“Great call by coach Elson bringing some edge pressure right there,” head coach Mike Neu said. “David Moore’s one of those guys who thrives on that. No different than him coming off the edge to block a punt last week. He loves when he has that opportunity.”
Passing yards: 238
Rushing yards: 228
Third-down conversions: 7-13
Passing yards: 239
Rushing yards: 116
Third-down conversions: 4-14
One of the reasons Moore had such a clear shot at Sale was the double-team redshirt senior Anthony Winbush drew. Winbush entered the game leading the nation with 4.5 sacks, and he added two more against the Golden Eagles.
Senior defensive tackle John Swisher said Winbush’s presence on the field makes it easier for other players to get after the quarterback, though Swisher didn’t want to discredit Moore.
“He’s gonna get a lot of slides, he’s gonna get a lot of double-teams,” senior defensive tackle John Swisher said. “He knows that — he got them this game but he still produced a sack-fumble. But it frees up the DB blitz in the Okie package, and getting a free-unblocked hit on the quarterback, he might as well have gotten the sack.”
Ball State’s defense limited Tennessee Tech to 239 passing yards, though they allowed 116 rushing yards. The Golden Eagles also had a few long plays — a 46-yard pass to senior receiver Dontez Byrd, a 44-yard pass to sophomore running back Andrew Goldsmith, and a 33-yard Goldsmith run — but the Cardinals only allowed one touchdown in four trips to the red zone.
“They did a good job of what I would say, bending but not breaking,” Neu said. “And I think it just came down to execution. They got themselves down there and our defense just kept fighting the fight and getting themselves off the field or forcing them to settle for a field goal. That’s what you want to see.”
The Cardinals offense started the game with a methodical 12-play, 75-yard drive that took 5:43 off the clock. Junior quarterback Riley Neal connected with redshirt freshman tight end Nolan Givan on a play-action pass for a three-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Ball State tight ends now have a receiving touchdown in each game this season after catching just one touchdown pass last season.
“They’re good,” Neal said. “Even when we’re not throwing too them they’re really good blockers too.”
Neal finished 23-31 for 238 yards and three touchdowns, though he also threw two interceptions. He connected with freshman wide receiver Justin Hall in the second quarter to give the Cardinals a 14-0 lead.
Tennessee Tech closed the gap to 14-7 after Goldsmith scored a 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and Neal responded with a 17-yard touchdown pass to junior running back James Gilbert.
It was Gilbert’s first career receiving touchdown and his second reception of the season. Last year, he only caught one pass.
“Me and James worked together all summer and offseason working on his hands and making that part of his game because, honestly, it really wasn’t last year,” Neal said. “As good as he was running the ball last year, it wasn’t him. He worked really hard this year and that wasn’t the easiest catch right there.”
Gilbert left the game in the second half and had his right ankle taped up. He sat out the rest of the game but Neu said he expects Gilbert to be fine.
Ball State’s offensive line, however, lost another key member with redshirt senior guard Vinnie Palazeti leaving in the second quarter with a “tweaked knee,” according to Neu.
“Let’s hope that he’ll probably be day-to-day and we’ll learn more about his injury tomorrow and even on Monday,” Neu said.
Redshirt sophomore Jacob White sat out after injuring his hand in last week’s win over UAB. Freshman David Rueth and redshirt junior Jeremiah Jackson filled in, with Rueth recording five tackles and an interception while Jackson recorded three tackles with an assisted tackle for loss.
“There’s still both younger guys and it’s good because every scenario every weekend when those guys are playing it’s kind of baptism by fire,” Neu said. “So you’re proud. Took a couple bumps and bruises here and there on some broken tackles, but for them to bounce back there and fight the fight and continue to the game, so there’s a lot of good tape to evaluate there. And a lot of things we need to clean up.”
White still contributed even though he sat out by wearing a headset throughout the game.
“Honestly, he’s like a coach,” Swisher said. “And that’s part of the reason he’s a captain, just because how tuned in he is out there. He’s helped out those guys out a lot. He’s helped our whole defense.”
Ball State took the final 28-13 lead late in the third quarter when sophomore Malik Dunner scored a 66-yard rushing touchdown. In total, the Cardinals ran for 228 yards with GIlbert’s 92 yards leading the way.
Ball State plays its final non-conference game when it takes on Western Kentucky (1-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Bowling Green, Kentucky.