MUNCIE – Ball State football coach Pete Lembo has delivered the type of football program that he spoke of at his initial press conference when he took over the Cardinal program in December of 2010.
Cardinal senior captain Travis Freeman has delivered that he was going to do everything in his power to help the Ball State program achieve its potential.
Junior quarterback Keith Wenning has delivered on working his tail off to become one of the most effective quarterbacks in the Midwest.
And sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards has delivered by evolving into a mature, talented, and oh so physical beast of a back.
But I'll tell you who hasn't delivered? The Ball State students, the Cardinal alumni, and the community of Muncie, who continue to demonstrate year after year (forget about 2008, that was an anomaly), that they simply don't care whether they have a good football team or not.
The Cardinals opened the 2012 season on Thursday at Schuemann Stadium with a resounding 37-26 beatdown of Mid-American Conference foe Eastern Michigan. Lembo's squad added yet another chapter in his story-book era since arriving on campus.
And I wish him well when he eventually bolts for a more supportive environment.
“I'm proud of the kids,” Lembo said. “They were really resilient in the second half.”
Yes they were. His players were resilient, mentally and physically tough, exciting to watch, and for the most part, disciplined. The Cardinals (1-0, 1-0 MAC) weren't perfect, but given that it was the team's first game since last November, they were pretty close.
Ball State rang up 596 yards of total offense and basically whipped the Eagles (0-1, 0-1) every which way over the final 30 minutes of the game. Not that the Ball State students would know that (more on that later).
The porous Cardinal defense of 2011 is a thing of the past. Ball State defensive coordinator Jay Bateman said during training camp that he had some runners on his side of the ball and he wasn't bluffing. The Cardinals had multiple highlight-reel licks laid on various Eagles and forced a very dangerous quarterback (Alex Gillett) into misfiring on 19 of his 34 passes.
And for the special teams? Ball State kicker Steven Schott banged in a 52-yard field goal that would have made it from 60, and Lembo even praised his kick-off specialist, Scott Secor, following the victory for doing a great job.
The Cardinals did all of this in front of a sad-sized crowd of just 12,725 fans that came out to see an incredibly talented team give everything it had on a Chamber of Commerce-type night.
But leave it to the ever-optimist Lembo to smile in the face of apathy. God bless him, he's trying to reach out to the blasť fan base.
“It was very obvious to me that we had a great student turn-out tonight,” Lembo said. “I don't know what the numbers were, but they were loud, they were into it, and they looked like they were having a good time.”
All of which is true, if we are talking about the second and third quarters. However, in regards to the first and then final quarters? That is an entirely different story.
A large portion of the Ball State students didn't even bother showing up until late in the first quarter when their team had already taken a 10-0 lead. And to add insult to injury, just seconds after Edwards had rumbled in for his third touchdown of the game to close the third period, the student section began to empty as if The Chug was offering free beer.
Where they were heading is anyone's guess. Hanging out in LaFollette and watching “Married to Jonas: Prom Night with the in-laws” can't be that enticing.
Four MAC teams (Central Michigan, Akron, and Kent State) took the field on Thursday and Ball State had a better record than any of them last year. Yet the Chippewas and Golden Flashes each drew over 15,000 fans, while Ball State had just 109 more fans than the Zips, which have won a total of five games in three seasons.
“Obviously it was a very entertaining game,” Lembo said.
Indeed it was.
Lembo's offense is unpredictable and includes power (Edwards and tight end Zane Fakes), speed (Horactio Banks and Jamill Smith), strength (an incredible offensive line) and skill (Wenning).
The Cardinal defense includes faster, stronger, and more violent athletes than have been on the field in years.
This program is back and it will contend among the elite teams in the conference. The Cardinals may even win a championship and go to a bowl game. This group is that talented.
Not that many in Muncie really care.