LARAMIE – The 107-mile drive south from Hicksville, Ohio, Garrett Crall’s hometown, to Muncie, Indiana, the home of Ball State University, takes less than two hours.
Crall, who considered Wyoming and Ball State coming out of high school, is glad he decided to make Laramie his home the last five years.
But getting a taste of Midwest football again has been an early bonus to the defensive end's super senior season.
UW hosts Ball State on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium (2 p.m., Stadium) a week after about 50 family members and friends watched Crall play against Northern Illinois in DeKalb, Illinois.
“Since I was a little kid, they've watched me all the way through elementary school, junior high school, high school and now they all got to watch me in college,” Crall said. “It might not be right next door but, shoot, it was by far the closest I've ever played to home. And it was a lot of fun. I loved being back in the Midwest. The humidity, for a day, was good. I liked that.”
UW was cruising along during Crall’s family reunion after linebacler Chad Muma returned an interception for a touchdown to give the visitors a 42-16 lead with 6:03 remaining in the third quarter.
But the Huskies scored the next 27 points to take the lead before Sean Chambers pulled the ripcord to stop the free fall with another game-winning drive.
UW's defense gave up 477 yards and six touchdowns (five rushing).
“You look up and you're like, ‘Wow, they put up a lot of points quick and the lead is gone,’” Crall said of the bumpy ride to the 50-43 road win. “We just had to find a way to come together as a team and make sure we finished it out. For about three quarters, we were dominating the entire game and we let some things get away in the fourth. We're better than that.”
UW’s defensive line was able to get in the backfield early in the first quarter and disrupted NIU’s game plan. Head coach Craig Bohl credited his counterpart, Thomas Hammock, for not abandoning the run after falling behind by four scores in the second half.
Rocky Lombardi threw a 40-yard touchdowns pass, Harrison Waylee ran for touchdowns of 75 and 14 yards and Clint Ratkovich’s third touchdown run gave the Huskies a 43-42 lead with 4:56 remaining.
“It's not fun,” defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel said of the experience. “Essentially, we played the first 35, 40 minutes of the game really well. You're in a position where you have a 26-point lead with five minutes to go into the third quarter. The last thing you want is to feel like you have to hold on at the end of the game.
"So it's not ideal, but there's a lot of learning that we can do and there's a lot that we have to get better with our whole unit.”
Crall understands the turnaround on defense will have to start up front.
Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt, a fellow super senior who has passed for 6,520 yards and 50 touchdowns during his career, will pick the Cowboys apart if the defensive line doesn’t pressure him.
“It's really a good challenge for us. It's a really good team,” Crall said. “I'm glad that we get to make strides this week against a team like this. I know a lot of their guys come from a similar makeup as we do here at Wyoming -- a lot of under-recruited players and guys that want to make a point. They're going to play hard. That’s kind of what we're expecting.”
The two schools Crall visited during the recruiting process were UW and Ball State. He joined the Cowboys as a walk-on and will leave as a team captain.
Crall’s 2020 homecoming – UW’s scheduled non-conference road game at Ball State – was canceled due to the pandemic.
By returning for an extra year with the Cowboys, the former Hicksville High standout gets to play a Mid-American Conference opponent for the second consecutive Saturday.
“I’m just glad that we came out of there with a win,” Crall said of the NIU game. “It wasn't pretty, but the offense made a play when they needed to and the defense made a play at the end when we needed to.
"I was just happy to be able to walk down, see all my family there and be able to celebrate a win rather than a loss.”