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  • Notre Dame wide receiver/running back Jafar Armstrong, left, runs with the ball against Ball State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Notre Dame linebacker Te'Von Coney, right, celebrates with defensive line Khalid Kareem after he tackled Ball State quarterback Riley Neal during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Notre Dame wide receiver/running back Jafar Armstrong, left, runs with the ball against Ball State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Saturday, September 08, 2018 7:20 pm

Notre Dame beats Ball State, 24-16,

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – 

How it Happened

Notre Dame took the ball to open the game and didn't waste any time in taking the lead. On the first play of the game, Brandon Wimbush found Chris Finke wide open down the sideline for a 27-yard gain. On the second play, Jafar Armstrong burst through a huge hole in the middle for a 42-yard run. He almost took it all the way, but got tripped up from behind at the 5-yard-line. Three plays later, Armstrong took a handoff from Ian Book and walked in through the left side for a 1-yard score and put his team in front 7-0.

Ball State had its back to the wall immediately, but the Cardinals' offense answered with a lengthy drive that chewed up nearly seven minutes of clock. Ball State took over at its own 8-yard line after a poor kick return, but used a series of short and intermediate passes to the outside to march down the field. Notre Dame's secondary played well off of Ball State's receivers and quarterback Riley Neal took advantage, going 6 for 11 for 67 yards on the drive. The Cardinals went 85 yards on 19 plays, but had to settle for a field goal when Notre Dame's defense stiffened near the goal line. It was 7-3 after the first quarter.

Both offenses continued struggling until midway through the second quarter when one of the most important sequences of the game occurred. Facing 3rd-and-3 in his own territory, Neal fired over the middle. Nick Coleman was in perfect coverage for the Irish and batted the ball in the air, where safety Jalen Elliott caught it for an interception and returned it 11 yards. On the first play of the ensuing Notre Dame drive, Wimbush handed off to Tony Jones Jr. and the running back went around the left end and found a ton of space, racing 31 yards to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and putting Notre Dame up 14-3. 

Ball State kicked a field goal near the end of the first half to make it a one-score difference at halftime and had a chance to really make it a game early in the second half, when the Cardinals drove near midfield. On 2nd-and-11, Neal tried to throw over the middle and Elliott was waiting, picking off his second pass of the game and returning it to the Notre Dame 44. From there, Wimbush was perfect, going 3 for 3 for 44 yards, completing two passes to Miles Boykin for 31 yards and Jones Jr. punched the ball in from a yard out to make it 21-6 in favor of the Irish.

Notre Dame added a field goal in the third quarter to make it a three-possession lead, but Ball State wouldn't go away. Spanning the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth, the Cardinals embarked on a 5-minute drive that covered 79 yards in 13 plays. The yards were gained mostly on the ground, with James Gilbert and Malik Dunner both doing some tough running. The Irish had a chance to get a stop on 4th-and-1 at the ND 17, but Ball State converted and two plays later Neal found Nolan Givan for a 10-yard touchdown to keep the Cardinals' hopes alive.

Ball State stayed in the game until the final minutes, driving into Notre Dame territory one more time with fewer than three minutes left. Kicker Morgan Hagee nailed a 49-yard field goal with 1:30 left to bring his team within one possession at 24-16 and force Notre Dame to recover an onside kick. The Irish did so, with Drue Tranquill falling on top of the ball to clinch the game for his team.

Player of the Game: Te'von Coney

Coney flew around the field all game and finished with a game-high 14 tackles, including three for loss, and a sack. He ran sideline to sideline and repeatedly got near Neal on blitzes. The senior linebacker has 24 tackles this season and double-digit takedowns in four of his last six games dating back to last season.

Facts and Figures

The Irish have won eight straight games against teams from Indiana dating back to 2008. The previous seven were all against Purdue. ... This was the first meeting between Notre Dame and Ball State. ... With his six points today (three extra points and a field goal), Justin Yoon passed running backs coach Autry Denson for fourth on the all-time Notre Dame scoring list with 287 career points. ... Ball State coach Mike Neu, an Indianapolis native, grew up a Notre Dame fan. ... Ball State has lost five straight against ranked teams and last won against a ranked opponent in 2012, when the Cardinals beat No. 23 Toledo 34-27. ... The Cardinals had a school record 652 yards in Week 1 against Central Connecticut, but managed just 349 against Notre Dame. ... Elliott's second-quarter interception was the first a Notre Dame safety since 2016. It was his first career interception in three seasons with the Irish. ... Ball State held the ball for 34:22. ... The Cardinals sacked Wimbush four times. ... Julian Love finished with eight tackles and four pass breakups. ... Miles Boykin had six catches for 119 yards, his second career 100-yard game. He had just one catch for 28 yards in Week 1. ... Fort Wayne Drue Tranquill had nine tackles, including one for loss, in addition to his onside recovery.

What's Next?

The Irish are back in action Sept. 15 at Notre Dame Stadium when they take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (2-0). The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBC. The Commodores beat Middle Tennessee 35-7 in Week 1 and took care of Nevada 41-10 today. The teams played twice in the mid-1990s, with Notre Dame winning both games, and will meet for the third time in Week 3. 

dsinn@jg.net