Ball State Football (3-1 MAC) didn’t have senior running back Caleb Huntley due to injury against Toledo (2-2 MAC). They were without their lead rusher who just a week ago set a school record with seven straight 100-yard rushing games — the same running back who has scored 13 touchdowns in seven games.
It didn’t matter.
Not only were the Cardinals missing their number one running back, but they were also missing their second-string rusher, redshirt junior Will Jones.
It didn’t matter.
It was up to the third-string running back, redshirt junior Tye Evans to fill the void. He did just that, as he ran for 108 yards on 25 attempts in Ball State’s 27-24 victory over the Rockets.
“Tye [Evans] was ready,” head coach Mike Neu said. “He was anxious for this opportunity, and I was proud of him to see him perform out there the way he did.”
Huntley participated in pre-game warmups, but he ultimately did not feel comfortable playing while hurt. This was Huntley’s first time missing a game since 2018, but that didn’t deter the Cardinals from having that next man up mentality.
“The only thing that goes through my mind is next man up,” redshirt senior Drew Plitt said. “Tye [Evans] is the next man up. Tye is capable and is a great player so for me, there was no mindset change. We just went out and executed our plan which is all that mattered.”
There is the old saying, ‘practice like you play,’ and Neu was proud of the work that Evans and the other young players put into practice with Huntley being limited.
“You credit the young men like Tye Evans and Donny Marcus that just stepped up when their number was called,” Neu said. “The next man up mentality. The guys have worked hard in practice and were ready. Tye was ready for his opportunity. He believed in himself and made the most of his reps in practice the last two weeks.”
It wasn’t just Evans who had to have that mentality. Senior wide receiver Justin Hall had a career-high eight carries. Not only did he get a heavy workload running the ball, he also had nine receptions for 127 yards.
Junior wide receiver Yo’Heinz Tyler also contributed with two receiving touchdowns — his fourth in three games. Graduate wide receiver Antwan Davis had five receptions for 41 yards including a one-handed catch on an inside fade from the slot.
“As a play-caller, you are trying to get the ball in the hands of your playmakers,” Neu said. “You like to have good distribution where all of the guys are having opportunities to touch the ball. It makes it hard to defend.”
Before the season started, Neu was excited about the depth his team has, and Plitt echoed that excitement as it came in full force Saturday afternoon. Plitt ended the game with 304 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.
“With Tye [Evans] stepping up, that is the depth that we have,” Plitt said. “While he is second or third on the depth chart, he is good enough to play with the [starters]. We have that depth everywhere. We have it at wide receiver, [offensive] line, tight end, everything. For us, it is just a great weapon to have because we can fall back on who is next up.”
A theme was work ethic. Redshirt junior inside linebacker Brandon Martin has to go against Huntley and the rest of the offense in practice and noticed how hard Evans worked despite not knowing if he would play the next game.
“I think the biggest thing with those guys is that they work hard,” Martin said. “As much as Caleb [Huntley] is the heartbeat of this football team, he couldn’t play today so someone had to step up and those guys did a great job. Defensively, we play Caleb Huntley every day but we face those guys too and they are really good players.”
Not only is Evans a hard worker, but he is also a leader for the team. Despite being third in line as a running back, he was ready when his number was called and it helped the Cardinals pull out the victory.
“He just works hard,” Neu said. “That is the one thing he hangs his hat on. Tye [Evans] is on our leadership council and is a phenomenal young man. He works his tail off on the practice field. When you are behind a player like Caleb Huntley that can sometimes be frustrating. That was never the case with Tye. He just worked hard all of the time and always had a great attitude.”
Contact Ian Hansen with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ianh_2.