Ball State — Final stats
Rushing yards — 133
Passing yards — 260
Total yards — 393
Yards per play — 4.9
Total yards allowed — 504
Third downs — 11-19
Turnovers — 1
Ball State could only watch as Toledo running back Kareem Hunt streaked past the defense down the right sideline, and only hope that the senior stepped out of bounds as he sprinted into the dense fog.
He didn't. Hunt’s 71-yard receiving touchdown on the second play of the third quarter stretched the lead and erased a strong effort that cut the Rockets’ lead to 20-10 at the half.
Toledo (9-2, 6-1 MAC) combined its fast start with a dominating second-half effort to hand Ball State (4-7, 1-6 MAC) a 37-19 loss at the Glass Bowl Wednesday night. With the loss, the Cardinals are officially eliminated from bowl consideration.
If you just looked at the stat sheet, it might appear that Toledo controlled the game from start to finish. But senior linebacker Sean Wiggins didn’t feel that way.
“They were nothing special. They were no Alabama team,” Wiggins said. “They’re a good team. I give them all credit, … They did what they had to do to win the game. But if you watched the game, it’s not like they were killing us every play.”
Ball State showed it could compete early in the second quarter, as quarterback Riley Neal rolled out and hit junior receiver Corey Lacanaria for a 10-yard score that cut the lead to 17-7.
The Cardinals fell behind early, highlighted by a James Gilbert fumble and a 62-yard punt return touchdown by Toledo’s Corey Jones.
But after an 11-play, 60-yard drive ended in a 24-yard field goal by sophomore Morgan Hagee, they found themselves within striking distance with 5:05 remaining in the first half.
“We had momentum, and I thought we were playing harder than them at the time,” Wiggins said. “They had some big plays on our mess-ups, and just took advantage of us sometimes.”
Whatever momentum Ball State had, however, evaporated as most of the 16,826 fans cheered Hunt into the end zone. By the end of the third quarter, the Rockets were in cruise control up 37-13.
“I felt good going into halftime, and obviously you’re being positive, you’re telling your football team when you come out for the second half, ‘Let’s get a stop defensively, and then offense let’s take the ball down the field.’ Anything can happen at that point. The credit goes to Toledo for taking the momentum and running with it.”
Literally. Hunt finished with 17 carries for 107 yards on the ground, and caught six passes from quarterback Logan Woodside for 98 yards and the long score.
Woodside came in as the Mid-American Conference leader in yards and touchdowns, and did his best to hold on to that post. He finished 25-39 for 325 yards and three touchdowns, and broke the school record for passing yards in a season in the process.
“He is, in my opinion, the best quarterback that we’ve faced this year,” Neu said. “He’s consistent every single week. He takes care of the ball and makes good decisions.”
The only mistake Woodside made was on a deep pass over the middle in the fourth quarter, when Ball State sophomore corner Josh Miller won a jump ball for an interception.
That set up a 10-play, 80-yard drive orchestrated by Neal that ended with an 11-yard touchdown to freshman Damon Hazelton Jr., who was the chief beneficiary in the passing game with career-highs in catches (12) and receiving yards (102).
Neal took care of the football and made good decisions over the course of the game. The sophomore played his most clean game of the year, going 33-49 for 260 yards and two scores, adding 85 yards on 14 carries.
“I think Riley played a pretty good game,” Hazelton said. "We still fell short of our goal. But I would definitely say he played a good game.”
With their seventh loss of the year, the Cardinals are now assured that next week’s game at Miami (Ohio) will be their last. This one stings now, but there’s still one to play.
“Nobody wants to lose,” Wiggins said. “You’re mad because you want to win. If you don’t, you’re not a competitor in football or in life. Any loss, no matter how many it is, always sucks.”
Once the horn sounded, all Ball State could do was watch as its bowl game aspirations disappeared into the fog that blanketed the Glass Bowl.