LINCOLN, Neb. — Ball State football coach Brady Hoke tried to keep a stiff upper lip on Saturday during his postgame press conference, but it was clear that his team’s excruciatingly close loss to Nebraska delivered deep pain.
Ball State quarterback Nate Davis (13) heads for the end zone on a 14-yard run in the third quarter against the Nebraska defender Ty Steinkuhler (43). - Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE
“We had opportunities,” Hoke said. “We need to make plays when (opportunities) present themselves.”
The Cardinals had No. 24 Nebraska reeling in the fourth quarter by taking a nine-point lead as 84,394 fans in Memorial Stadium booed the home team. But the Cornhuskers rallied late in the game to pull out a 41-40 victory.
Ball State was oh-so-close to beating a team from one of the nation’s top six conferences for the first time in school history, but it couldn’t make the necessary plays in the final 7 minutes to secure the watershed accomplishment.
The Cardinals took a 40-35 lead with 7:05 to play on a 22-yard field goal by Jake Hogue. The Huskers came back on their next possession to drive 65 yards in seven plays for a touchdown that put them ahead 41-40 with 3:13 remaining in the game.
Ball State’s fate rested in its hands.
Quarterback Nate Davis moved the Cardinals into position by leading them to a first down at the Nebraska 43 with less than a minute to play.
On second down, Dante Love dropped a pass inside the 15-yard line with 22 seconds to go. Love would have scored had he caught the ball.
A third-down pass from Davis to Darius Hill in traffic near the 15 was incomplete.
That brought out Hogue for an attempt at a 55-yard field goal that could have won the game. He pulled the ball after a high snap, and the direction was off target immediately. The ball sailed into the seats behind the end zone, but the kick was wide to the left with 12 seconds to go.
“Of course, this is going to hurt,” Davis said. “But we have to come back tomorrow and go at it again. We lost, but you have to move on.”
Davis directed a Ball State offense that threatened school offensive records. His 422 passing yards was No. 3 in school history, and the Cardinals’ 610 yards of offense was also No. 2 on the all-time list.
Love caught 10 passes for 214 yards, the sixth-best total in school history.
Tailback Quale Lewis rushed for 122 yards, giving him 283 in his past two games.
Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller passed for 438 yards and three touchdowns. The Cardinals sacked him three times and intercepted him once.
Ball State will be at home for the second time when it plays host to Buffalo at noon next Saturday.
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