Long night for Cardinals in opener

MUNCIE — The Ball State football team came out onto the field Thursday night to REO Speedwagon's "Ridin' The Storm Out."

Based on the Cardinals' performance against North Texas, that's exactly what the team, players and fans will be doing for the time being.

Coming off the undefeated regular season last year, hopes and expectations are still sky-high this year- even when it's clear the talent isn't as abundant compared to the year before.

Make no mistake, North Texas is vastly improved from last year's 1-11 mark.

But Cardinal Nation undoubtedly came away disappointed with the Cardinals' performance in the opener Thursday as they lost to the Mean Green, 20-10.

"Ball State football is in a little bit of a transition here," Parrish said. "We had a chance tonight but we didn't play well enough. That's all you can ask and we got to get the silly stuff corrected.

"Let's let last year be that magnificent last year. This team has a tremendous burden. It's almost not fair to them. But we knew that going in and our job is to get these guys better. We got a lot of good, young players and we're going to be a good football team. It might not have looked it tonight but I guarantee it'll get better."

The Cardinals' offense took a huge hit when tight end Madaris Grant went out with a knee injury. Preliminary reports say that Grant is likely to be out for the remainder of the season.

Ball State's defense, expected to be very good, showed very little signs of that throughout the game with missed tackles, missed assignments and a lot of holes for North Texas' offense to exploit.

The Mean Green (1-0) used their spread option offense to keep the Cardinals (0-1) off-balance. Quarterback Riley Dodge and running backs Lance Dunbar and Cam Montgomery were the top rushers in a 296-yard performance. Dodge was also 23-of-33 passing for 216 yards and one touchdown.

"We need to be more consistent," said senior defensive end Brandon Crawford. "We need to focus more on those little things. They got the best of us tonight. Our job is to keep them out of the end zone and we didn't do that."

"We missed a lot of tackles. That comes from not being disciplined and not breaking down. That's going to be a major emphasis this week in practice."

Montgomery led the way with 149 yards while Dodge tallied 73 and Dunbar 63.

To counter, Ball State's retooled offense only managed 309 total yards.

MiQuale Lewis, one of the nation's top rushers a season ago, only carried the ball 15 times but netted 103 yards – including a 27-yard touchdown run which tied the game at 10 late in the third quarter.

Making his first collegiate start, Kelly Page was 15-of-34 for 140 yards while also running for 53 yards and a costly interception in the end zone during the first half of action.

"As the game progressed, I feel like I got into a little bit of a rhythm," Page said. "We have to capitalize on possessions. We can't stall our drives and not get into the end zone. We've got to score more than one touchdown … can't win with a touchdown and a field goal."

Even with the statistical discrepancy, the Cardinals were still in the game until late.

After tying the game at 10 following Lewis' 27-yard run with 12:41 remaining in the game, North Texas responded with a four-play, 66-yard touchdown drive with Dodge completing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Michael Outlaw for a 17-10 lead.

The big play in the drive was a 59-yard pass from Dodge to Jamaal Jackson.

On Ball State's first play from scrimmage following the score, Eric Williams fumbled and NT recovered. It appeared Williams' progress had been stopped, but the whistle was not blown before the fumble.

UNT responded with a field goal, taking a 20-10 lead with 7:36 to go.

On Ball State's ensuing drive, the Cardinals went 10 plays to get to the 14-yard line, but McGarvey missed a field goal attempt to take the wind out of the Cardinals' sails.

"The sun will come up in our locker room tomorrow," Parrish said.

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