Clayton Coll is going to remember that moment for the rest of his life.
While it was Clayton’s final game of the 2022 season, it was his brother, Casey Coll's, final football game, full stop.
When the final whistle blew 18-17, Clayton took a moment on his knees, then he looked for his brother.
“There were a lot of people coming up to me, people around me but, my brother’s last high school game, we got beat in sectionals; we walked off the field together,” Clayton said. “I knew that this was going to be the final time for real, so I wanted to walk off with him.”
It was a tough conversation, one he knew was possible but did not want to have. Walking into the locker room with his brother, Clayton said after head coach Mike Neu’s speech, there wasn’t a word.
“It was dead silent, upset, mad, sad, whatever you want to look at it as,” Clayton said.
15 minutes earlier, Miami (Ohio) took the Cardinals’ ticket to the 2022 HomeTown Lenders Bahamas Bowl, sealing their sixth win with a touchdown in the final moments.
Ball State led all the way up until that touchdown.
“A tough way to end the season,” Neu said. “Proud of our guys for how hard they fought, but it’s obviously tough trying to find the words in the locker room to say goodbye to some guys that have given a lot to our program."
Both of the first half touchdowns were scored by sophomore running back Carson Steele, his 13th and 14th of the season – all Ball State’s rushing touchdowns this year were scored by Steele. But coming in, there was a chance he would miss the season finale after leaving the previous week’s game with injury.
“It was hard trying to balance out school and stuff,” Steele said. “Coming in day-by-day, you don’t know if you’re going to be able to play or not, it really kind of messed me up a little bit mentally.”
Steele was suited up against the Redhawks, much to the pleasure of Ball State fans, scoring his second touchdown on a red-hot drive that was carved out by redshirt freshman Kiael Kelly, who was used periodically in the game, to put the Cardinals up 14-3.
“[Kelly] got a lot of reps in practice this week,” Neu said. “John [Paddock] got dinged up in the game last week against Ohio… he was limited throughout the week of practice and Kiael really stepped in and had a great week and [we] felt good about how we were going to utilize him and let him run [and] make some plays with his feet.”
The Cardinals were up by 11 going into the locker room, and Neu’s focus was the 0-0 mentality. Coming out of the locker room, they only managed three points on the opening drive before going scoreless through the final whistle.
“The first drive of the second half, we took it down [and] we scored three points,” Neu said. “We had some other drives there where you can’t have holding penalties, you can’t have self-inflicted wounds and get yourself into long yardage situations.”
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals’ defense stood out, shutting down the Redhawks in the first half with big performances from Clayton (11 total tackles), senior cornerback Amechi Uzodinma (two total tackles, one interception) and junior outside linebacker Sydney Houston (six total tackles and one sack). But it came down to the final two minutes.
“Just turning, looking, seeing [Miami’s touchdown to take the lead] happen, just another 50/50 ball, another football play, you’re pretty pissed,” Clayton said. “Then it kind of snaps back to reality. [I] looked at the clock, saw there’s like 1:40 left, they’re gonna go for two, try to make a three-point game. Just know, let’s stop this two-point conversion, get the ball back in our offense’s hands and have faith.”
“I try not to get too worked up,” he continued. “I mean I can get mad, we all can get mad but it just doesn’t do any good at that point.”
The final mark on Ball State’s game was a failed conversion on fourth-and-one right at midfield where Steele was stuffed up and fell short.
“It wasn’t anything I didn’t see, it was just they fit up the gaps,” Steele said. “I didn’t really see much and it’s unfortunate that we just didn’t get that play.”
In his final moment on the field, Steele found redshirt senior Will Jones.
“That dude, he’s helped me a lot these couple last years,” Steele said. “He’s not coming back, he’s never going to be able to play football again. I came back this week after everything that happened last week just trying to get a bowl game for him and we couldn’t get it done tonight. So that kind of really hurt me but you know, that’s somebody who I look up to, he’s an inspiration for me.”
With jerseys off and equipment packed up, there is no choice but to dissect the season, watch the tape and move on.
“After we had a big transition last year and we had 32 guys that graduated and moved on to the next chapter of their life,” Neu said. “So big turnover and obviously, everybody had his pick to the bottom [of the MAC] but our guys fought their tail off every single week to give ourselves a chance to be in position at the end of games week in, week out.”
Ball State finishes 3-5 in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and 5-7 overall.
“Got to keep your head up, got to keep your chin up,” Neu said. “Life is full of adversity and tough times never last. Tough people do.”
Ball State football opens the 2023 season against Kentucky Sept. 2.