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Updated: Saturday September 27, 2008 5:12 PM




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MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - Dante Love may be sidelined, but he won't let Ball State forget him.

The Cardinals beat Kent State 41-20 on Saturday in their first game since Love, Ball State's top receiver, suffered a spinal injury. Love is recovering from surgery at a rehabilitation center in Indianapolis, but that didn't stop him from leaving coach Brady Hoke's cell phone buzzing during the game.

''Dante called me at halftime three times,'' Hoke said. ''Didn't think 'Quale ( MiQuale Lewis ) was focused, his shirt tail was out.

''He's not far from any of our thoughts, and we're not far from him.''

It seemed everyone's thoughts were with Love a week after his career likely was ended in a collision with Indiana cornerback Chris Adkins . Ball State players wore red T-shirts with Love's number 86 on the front during warmups, and had stickers with the number on the back of their helmets. A ''We Love Dante'' sign was draped over the fence just past the north end zone.

Love also was named an honorary captain. One player will be named captain on Love's behalf each game this season.

Lewis, focused or not, ran for 116 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes for 39 yards. He had his fourth straight 100-yard game and has 10 touchdowns this season.

Nate Davis passed for 265 yards and a touchdown.

Love's replacement, Briggs Orsbon , caught 10 passes for 112 yards. Though he's just a freshman, he already has been affected by Love.

''I've only been playing with him for three or four months,'' Orsbon said. ''When he went down, it was like losing one of my best friends. We're going to be representing 86 every week.''

Ball State also wants to honor Love by earning its first Mid-American Conference title since 1996 and reaching a second straight bowl game for the first time in history. The Cardinals (5-0, 2-0 MAC) took a step toward that goal by matching their best start since 1988.

''We know the work ethic he had,'' Orsbon said. ''We want to put out his energy, and hopefully hold up a trophy for him.''

Hoke said the situation provided a life lesson for his players.

''Our thoughts and prayers are there, but you have to keep moving forward,'' he said. ''Dante wants us to move forward.''

Julian Edelman passed for 177 yards and a touchdown and ran for 70 yards and two scores for Kent State (1-4, 0-1).

The Cardinals rolled without Love, who ranks second on Ball State's all-time list for receptions (199), and receiving yards (2,778), and is tied for fourth in TD receptions (20). He is the school's career leader in kickoff return yards (2,129), was leading the nation in receiving yards per game (144.3) before the injury and had been drawing increasing interest from NFL scouts.

Kent State coach Doug Martin said Ball State is the conference favorite, even without Love.

''Ball State has the recipe for success,'' he said. ''They have a great quarterback and a great defense. It is difficult to prepare for everything that Ball State can throw at you.''

Lewis opened the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Davis connected with Myles Trempe for a 31-yard touchdown pass that gave the Cardinals a 14-0 lead.

Kent State responded late in the quarter when Edelman scored on a 12-yard run to cut Ball State's lead to 14-7.

Lewis scored his second touchdown on a 1-yard run with 21 seconds left in the second quarter to give the Cardinals a 21-7 lead at halftime.

Cory Sykes ' 10-yard touchdown run in the opening minutes of the third quarter made it 28-7, and the Cardinals led by at least 17 points the rest of the way.

Hoke said the team paid proper respect to Love, yet remained focused on football.

''I don't know if I was concerned because we had a good week of practice,'' he said. ''Our leadership guys who have been the backbone of our team did a good job.''

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