MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) Drew Plitt threw two long touchdown passes to Justin Hall and Ball State pulled away in the second half for a 31-21 victory over Western Illinois in a nonconference season opener on Thursday night.

Plitt connected with Hall for a 49-yard score midway through the first quarter to open the scoring and fired a 48-yard scoring strike to Hall midway through the third quarter to give the Cardinals a 21-14 lead. Carson Steele raced 37 yards for a TD early in the fourth quarter to make it 28-14 and Jake Chanove added a 35-yard field goal to cap Ball State's scoring. Plitt completed 17 of 28 passes for 188 yards and the two scores. Will Jones carried 18 times for 93 yards and a TD, while Steele added 79 yards on seven totes.

The Leathernecks hung with the defending Mid-American Conference champions, forging a 7-7 halftime tie when Connor Sampson directed a 13-play, 96-yard drive that culminated with Tony Tate's 1-yard run to paydirt. Sampson completed 30 of 43 passes for 367 yards with two TDs and an interception. Sampson hooked up with Dennis Houston for a 75-yard scoring strike to knot the score at 14 with 10:17 left in the third quarter, but Ball State answered with 17 straight points to wrap up the victory. Houston finished with 12 catches for 237 yards and two scores.

Western Illinois managed just 70 yards on the ground on 24 carries, while the Cardinals ran for 216 on 40 attempts.


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