MUNCIE – Entering his post-game press conference with sweat still on his face from three-and-a-half hours of coaching his team, Pete Lembo made one thing clear.
The success that his team has had against the one he lined up against for a third time was, in his mind, quite unprecedented.
“We’ll if you would have told me two-and-a-half, three years ago when we got here that we’d be sitting here on September 7, 2013 and our first three games against Army would all be wins-and two-of-the-three would be in convincing fashion, I would have told you that’s probably a bit of a dream,” said Lembo.
We’ll, it’s not. Once again Ball State had all the answers for the Black Knights, who were never in the game after the second quarter in a 40-14 Cardinals victory. In Lembo’s first two meetings the Cardinals’ scored a 48-22 victory in 2011 and a 30-22 triumph a year later.
After Army scored the opening points of the game, the Cardinals scored 37 unanswered points to improve their record to 2-0-and their coach’s record against the service academy to a perfect 3-0.
“This is a very difficult group to get ready for,” said Lembo, pointing to the Black Knight’s unique option offense. “Fortunately we had them a little bit earlier this season so we were able to dedicate a little bit of time during preseason against the option, but obviously we had a very difficult opponent the first week (Illinois State) so we couldn’t put too much time into it.
“The extra day or two certainly helped us this week.”
The nine-day gap between the win over Illinois State and the Army game seemed to pay dividends as much for the offense as the defense, who found no trouble with the Black Knights’ defense despite no having the services of running back Jahwan Edwards.
Horactio Banks took bulk of the carries in his place and scored two first-half touchdowns, but it was quarterback Keith Wenning that once again carried the offense. The senior completed 23-of-32 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Cardinals to 37-unanswered points in the first, second, and third quarters to put Army out of reach.
Banks had the first touchdown of the game on the Cardinals’ first drive and then Wenning hit Jamill Smith for an 8-yard touchdown to make it 14-7. Two Ball State drives stalled deep in Army territory but were finished off by Scott Secor field goals to make it 20-7. Banks’ second touchdown run of the game with 1:01 left in the first half made it 27-7 at the break.
Secor added another field goal to start the second half and Wenning completed the run of points with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Zane Fakes to complete the 37-point run.
“It was important to start with a score especially against Army with ball control, time possessions and that kind of stuff,” said Wenning. “So to get that first score on the first drive was really important.”
So were turnovers for a Ball State defense that had some yield against the Army option attack. The Black Knights gained 388 yards on the ground and got the opening points of the game on a 71-yard scamper by running back Larry Dixon (team-high 107 yards rushing) but the Cardinals forced three turnovers and got points on every one to slow their attack.
Ball State allowed only one touchdown in the final 59 minutes and did so without the services of right end Jonathan Newsome.
“We were without two of our veteran players today and some younger guys were forced to step up.I think it makes it even that much more satisfying,” said Lembo. “So it was a good win, good to get No. 2 under out belts. We know things are going to get more difficult here moving forward.”
Though if you look back, it hasn’t for Lembo or Ball State when it comes to Army.