CMU Rallies for 31-24 OT Win at Ball State

MUNCIE, Ind. - Ryan Strehl returned a blocked punt 32 yards for a touchdown, and Justin Harper scored on a seven-yard screen pass in overtime to lift Central Michigan University (6-5 overall, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) to a 31-24 win at Ball State (4-7, 4-4) in the regular season finale on Saturday.

The win secures CMU's first winning season since 1998, while the Chippewas' five conference wins are also the most since that same season.

The Chippewas trailed 21-17 when Justin Gardner blocked a Cardinal punt, which Strehl scooped off the turf and returned for a score with 1:51 remaining. Ball State answered by covering 74 yards in 13 plays and tying the score at 24 on a Brian Jackson 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.

Central Michigan began overtime with the ball, and Kent Smith connected with Harper for the winning score on second-and-six from the seven. Ball State faced fourth-and-inches from the 16-yard line on its possession, and a Joey Lynch quarterback sneak was stopped for no gain.

Ball State jumped in front just 2:01 into the contest. B.J. Hill slipped off right tackle and scored on a 31-yard run on the Cardinals' fourth offensive snap.

The margin stretched to 14-0 when Lynch scrambled to his left and found Terry Moss in the end zone with 7:08 left in the second quarter. A 39-yard toss from Lynch to Louis Johnson set up the score.

The Chippewas scored twice in the final 1:49 of the first half to draw within 14-10 at the break. Thomas Keith's fourth interception of the season set up a 28-yard Rick Albreski field goal. Following a Ball State punt, Smith led the Chippewas 83 yards in just five plays. He hit Jacob Brown over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown on the final snap of the half.

Charles Wynn scored on a 19-yard run to stretch Ball State's lead to 21-10 with 4:28 left in the third. The Chippewas answered just 44 seconds later when Smith connected with Brown for a 47-yard score. Brown caught the pass in the left flat, picked up a key block from Harper and sprinted down the sideline for the score.

The score remained 21-17 until Gardner and Strehl's heroics in the closing minutes.

Smith finished 23-of-42 for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Harper caught eight passes for 110 yards and Brown's four catches covered 108 yards.

Defensively, Keith recorded a team-high 12 tackles (including 10 solo) and his team-leading fourth interception. Daniel Bazuin was in on 11 tackles, including 5.5 for a loss of yardage and 3.5 sacks.

Tony Thompson collected two sacks, while De'Onte Burnam was in on 1.5 sacks.

The game was CMU's eighth decided by seven points or less in 2005. The Chippewas were an even 4-4 in those contests.

CMU has now won two straight season finales, both against Ball State.

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