Army quarterback Angel Santiago hands off to full back Hayden Tippett during the second half against Ball State in Muncie, Ind., on Sept. 7. Ball State defeated Army 40-14. (Michael Conroy / AP)
MUNCIE, IND. — Army’s Black Knights imploded and had the wind taken right out of their sails.
The Ball State Cardinals were too much, and the Black Knights never recovered. The Cardinals scored 37 straight points to take the lead and defeated the Black Knights 40-14 on Saturday.
Larry Dixon, who had 107 yards rushing and two scores for Army (1-1), broke away for a 71-yard run to give the Black Knights (1-1) a 7-0 lead 56 seconds into the game.
But on the next drive, Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning — who passed for two touchdowns and 325 yards — threw passes of 11, 15 and 13 yards to Willie Snead. Horactio Banks, who had two touchdowns and 51 yards rushing, had a 7-yard rush and later a 10-yard run to tie the game at 7-7. On the next drive, Smith, who had 83 yards receiving and a touchdown, scored the go-ahead TD on an 8-yard reception to make it 14-7.
Ball State’s Scott Secor kicked a career-best 47-yard field goal to give the Cardinals (2-0) a 17-7 lead.
The Cardinals never looked back. And never gave the Black Knights a shot.
“Throughout the contest, the thing that’s most impressive about Ball State and the thing that’s most frustrating to us is all the little things,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. “This week we ran into a gifted opponent.”
Army’s Angel Santiago had 49 yards on 3-of-11 passing.
“We have a lot of weapons on offense,” Wenning said. “I don’t look to one guy to throw the ball to. I’ll throw the ball to whoever’s open, if that’s the running back, if that’s any of the receivers. Army, they did some good things, (but) they couldn’t stick with some of our receivers sometimes so it opened them up and I just got them the ball.”
The Cardinals, who have won three straight against Army, start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2008. The Black Knights haven’t started 2-0 since 1996 when they won nine straight and went 10-2 that year. They haven’t put two wins together since 2010.
“Well, if you would have told me three years ago when we got here that we’d be sitting here and our first three games against Army would all be wins, and two of the three being in convincing fashion, I would have told you that’s probably a bit of a dream,” third-year coach Pete Lembo said.
After 42 scoring unanswered points in last week’s season opener, the Cardinals scored 37 straight on Saturday. After Army scored early on, the Cardinals never let the Black Knights find a groove.
Not a bad start for a Ball State team hoping to make a run at a MAC championship and become bowl-eligible for a third straight year. The Cardinals go on the road to North Texas next week, then to Eastern Michigan to start the MAC schedule.
It will be after next week’s game when Lembo will have an idea of whether or not his team is at a level to make a run in a competitive MAC or if they need to take it up a notch or two.
“It’s a difficult answer right now because this is such a unique week,” Lembo said.
Ball State’s season-opener was Aug. 29, giving the Cardinals an abnormally long week.
“Moving forward everything is going to be so much more conventional,” Lembo said. “This coming week will be much more telling because we’re going back to playing a much more conventional team. I’ll say this: I think we’re going to be playing a very, very good opponent this week that is going to be very physically challenging. This week will be very revealing.”
Army, which didn’t see a turnover or penalty in its season opener, was called for an illegal block on the kickoff after Ball State’s tying score. They ended up committing eight penalties, lost two fumbles and threw an interception.
The Black Knights scored their final touchdown with 1:40 left in the third on a 9-yard run by Dixon. By then the Cardinals led 37-14.
NOTES: Senior running back Raymond Maples moved to No. 10 on Army’s career all-purpose yards with 2,931. Ball State RB Jahwan Edwards (concussion), DE Jonathan Newsome (ankle), LB Julian Boyd (knee), and WR Chris Shillings (ankle) were out with injuries. Former Ball State lineman and current sports writer Jason Whitlock attended Saturday’s game and visited a team practice earlier in the week. Wenning’s 325 passing yards marks the eighth time he reached the 300-yard mark in his career.