Halfway through the third quarter and trailing 21-13, the Ball State football team faced a critical fourth and inches.
Quarterback Jack Milas took the snap and pushed his way to the right, appearing to cross the first down marker. Running back Jahwan Edwards wanted to make sure he made it. By lowering his shoulder into Milas’s face, and slamming him a few more feet before they crashed into the ground.
Ball State defeated Akron 35-21, the play just one of many that changed momentum as Ball State showed it’s learning how to win.
“I told him, ‘Great job,’ when I was lying on the ground, because I had no idea where I was,” Milas said, who finished the game with 225 yards passing and a rushing touchdown.
The Cardinals fell behind early, when Akron quarterback Tommy Woodson found Anthony Ritossa for a touchdown and Conor Hundley scampered in from 13 yards away, giving Akron a 14-3 lead.
For a Ball State defense that’s struggled on the season, it looked like it was going to be another tough outing.
Falling behind further late in the second quarter 21-6, Milas found Jordan Williams deep on the left sideline, pump faking to get Williams just enough space to pick up 39 yards. KeVonn Mabon took a reverse to the right, running into the end zone and cutting the lead to 21-13 before halftime.
Facing a situation where the team might have responded differently earlier in the season, Ball State refused to fold.
For a young team, head coach Pete Lembo said his team is growing up quickly.
“That’s the maturation process, the growing process they’re going through, playing 60 minutes,” he said. “Not being able to say, ‘[Edwards] will take care of it,’ instead, ‘I’ll take care of it.’”
As the third quarter wore on, Edwards began taking control. A 13-yard pass completion to him, along with runs of three and four, set up a Scott Secor field goal to cut the lead to 21-16.
Edwards finished the game with 121 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Secor was 5-7 on field goals.
On the next possession, with Akron driving, Woodson felt pressure and fired the ball straight to linebacker Zack Ryan, who intercepted the ball and returned it to the Akron 38.
Secor added another field goal before another Akron blunder changed momentum completely.
With Kyle Schmidt punting, Akron’s Imani Davis muffed the punt, recovered by Quintin Cooper. Two plays later, Milas took the handoff on a zone read and took off to the left, trotting into the end zone to give his team a 25-21 lead.
A redshirt freshman starting in just his third game, he put the ball in his own hands during a critical situation.
Growing up quickly, indeed.
“[Milas] is showing some of that growth. There are a lot more guys that need to continue to show that,” Lembo said. “I know it, the staff knows it, the team knows it.”
Just minutes later, Akron lined up for a punt before Teddy Williamson came through and smothered the ball off punter Zach Paul’s foot. Edwards pounded the ball in from two yards away for a touchdown.
With Akron needing to push downfield, Ball State corner Tyree Holder undercut a route and picked off Woodside. It was yet another big play made by a young sophomore during an important situation.
Woodson finished with 200 yards and a touchdown, the Cardinals picking him off four times and not allowing a score in the second half.
Secor tacked on another field goal before an interception from Eric Patterson sealed the game.
‘We’re showing some fight, and don’t stick a fork on us just yet,” Lembo said.
Ball State improves to 3-5 on the season, and 2-2 in Mid-American Conference play.