BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sophomore running back James Gilbert continues to produce for the Ball State football team and today he finished with 264 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in the 31-21 victory at Buffalo. Gilbert’s rushing total was the second highest ever by a Cardinal.
Ball State (4-3, 1-2 MAC) struggled to find its rhythm in the first half as the Cardinals turned the ball over three times and only scored seven points. However, the defense held Buffalo (1-5, 0-2) to 14 points in the opening half to keep Ball State within striking distance.
“I tried to stay as calm, cool and collected as I could [at halftime],” Ball State head coach Mike Neu said. “We had the right kind of attitude. We had the right kind of effort. Obviously we had some self-inflicted wounds in the first half … but I was proud of our guys coming back out in the second half and competing, fighting, scratching, clawing and finding a way to get our first MAC win.”
Gilbert provided the needed spark for the Cardinals on their second drive following intermission. The native of Indianapolis, Indiana, burst through the middle of the line for 50 yards down to the Buffalo two-yard line. Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Riley Neal went around the right side for a four-yard scoring run to even the score at 14.
On Ball State’s ensuing possession, Gilbert exploded for another huge run. This time, he raced down the right sidelines 80 yards to pay dirt put the Cardinals ahead for good, 21-14. That was the longest run by a Ball State player since David Brown produced an 80-yard touchdown run at Central Michigan on Oct. 2, 2010.
A KeVonn Mabon 44-yard catch-and-run set up another Ball State touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Neal finished that drive with a seven-yard run to make the score, 28-14. The Cardinals would go on to add an insurance field goal with 4:56 remaining to put the game away.
Ball State’s defense played a huge role as well in the second half as the Cardinals stopped Buffalo on downs three times. Seniors Sean Wiggins and Martez Hester came up with a 4th-and-1 stop at the Ball State 25-yard line on Buffalo’s opening possession.
Later in the quarter, senior Joshua Posley took down Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth down play at the Ball State 37-yard line. Ball State made one final stand with 10:39 remaining in the game, forcing the Bulls into an incomplete pass on 4th-and-8.
Gilbert has now reached 100 yards rushing in three consecutive games. He ran the ball 34 times and averaged 7.8 yards per carry. MiQuale Lewis is the only Ball State player to finish with more rushing yards in a game than Gilbert. Lewis tallied 301 yards at Eastern Michigan on Oct. 24, 2009.
Ball State recorded 258 yards on the ground following halftime, more than doubling its total from the first half (98 yards). The Cardinals racked up a season-high 568 yards of offense and moved to 5-0 all-time at Buffalo.
Ball State will now return home for three straight games. First up is Homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 22 against Akron. Game time on ESPN3 is set for 3 p.m.