Ball State football players walked down the hallway leading to the locker room, slapping the concrete walls, yelling and cheering. The sounds continued, hitting the metal lockers in celebration.
“Ozzie Mann, baby, Ozzie Mann,” one player yelled out.
“Enjoy it, everything is better after a win,” another said.
The football team ended its roller coaster season with a 41-24 road victory against Bowling Green.
“It’s been a challenging season. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Cardinals head coach Pete Lembo said. “Great way to finish here with a big road win against one of the better teams in the conference … good to see everyone keep their poise and keep battling.”
The Cardinals had to battle early, as the Falcons Travis Greene tore off a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.
Ball State responded, as Ozzie Mann found KeVonn Mabon on a short slant, Mabon making the catch and turning up field for 62-yard touchdown.
Seconds later, Clint Stephens returned the kickoff 96 yards to reclaim a 14-7 lead for Bowling Green. After a quick Ball State punt, Bowling Green cashed in with a two-yard touchdown run from Fred Coppet.
Less than five minutes in, Ball State was already trailing 21-7. At the end of the first quarter, Ball State had allowed 203 rushing yards, most of them directly up the middle.
Ball State played a significant amount of man defense to start, contributing to the rushing defense woes.
“We started playing some more zone, later in the game to help against the run,” Lembo said. “As we built the lead, you felt a little better about playing some more zone.”
The Cardinals offense started flowing after a Scott Secor field goal cut the lead to 21-10. Deep in Bowling Green territory, Mann lobbed a pass up to Chris Shillings for a 25-yard touchdown, on a play where the corner blew coverage.
There wasn’t a defender within 15 yards of him.
“I saw [Shillings] open, and I threw it up to him basically,” Mann said. “I knew I was feeling pressure, and I saw he was just wide open.”
With the second quarter closing, Mann hit Jordan Williams, who fought and reached into the end zone to give Ball State a 24-21 lead.
Mann finished with 286 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers, easily his most impressive performance of the season. Mabon led all receivers with 119 yards and a touchdown, while Williams added 70 yards and a touchdown.
Ball State and Bowling Green exchanged field goals to start the third quarter, before Jahwan Edwards rumbled into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown. It was the final game for the Ball State senior, who racked up 177 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns.
He’s scored 51 touchdowns at Ball State, the most in school history, and said he’s hopeful to have a NFL future.
“The last couple years, we didn’t win the last game we played,” Edwards said. “It’s something that was a goal of mine this year, going home on a good note feels great.”
With Ball State’s win becoming more certain, Edwards tore off a 13-yard touchdown run to seal the 41-24 victory, ending the season with snow falling on the Cardinal players just as it did at the first spring practice of the season in March.
Amidst all the cheering and hollering in the locker room, everyone went silent. Immediately, the entire team and coaches staff sung the Ball State fight song, a cheery end to a disappointing 5-7 season.
Ball State also finished 4-4 in Mid-American Conference play.