Toledo emerges victorious over Ball State in punt-fest 28-21

On the surface, a 28-21 ball game suggests a decent level of execution by offenses. But in reality, Tuesday night at the Glass Bowl was an exhibition between two bettors trading blows in a draw, waiting on an attack to land a final punch.

With 1:18 remaining, Toledo finally seized the opportunity. Quarterback Dequan Finn connected with tight end Jamal Turner in the flat, and Turner beat Ball State to the corner of the end zone for the touchdown. That tiebreaking scoreline gave Toledo (7-3, 5-1 MAC) a 28-21 win over Ball State (5-5, 3-3 MAC).

While maintaining an undefeated Glass Bowl record, Toledo sits authoritatively in the driver’s seat for his first appearance in the MAC Championship game since 2017. If Northern Illinois beats Western Michigan on Wednesday night, the Rockets will officially punch their ticket to Detroit for a shot at the conference title.

Before the celebration took place in the Toledo dressing room, there were plenty of attacking trivia in this game. Ball State and Toledo combined to kick 22 times, and there was a second field position battle where the teams traded nine consecutive punts – and more than half of those punts concluded a three and a withdrawal. Toledo threw 10 times for 336 yards, while Ball State produced more punting yards than offensive yards by a 478-281 margin.

The punting spectacle was finally interrupted by Finn’s game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Just before sending the game-winning touchdown strike, Finn delivered a 22-yard clutch pass to Jerjuan Newton to overcome a 1-and-20 set up by a holding penalty. It was the first game back from injury for the quarterback, who had missed the previous game against Eastern Michigan. The rejuvenated Finn completed 21 of 38 attempts for 301 yards and three touchdowns in the win, setting his season-high in passing yards.

Ball State’s offense was certainly more one-dimensional than Toledo’s. The Cardinals were in control for most of the night, never trailing from the end of the first quarter until the final 78 seconds. Ball State’s early success was primarily due to the heroism of running back Carson Steele. For the second week in a row, the true sophomore broke his career high in the racing department. The 6’1”, 215 powerhouse smashed a host of tackles en route to a 198-yard performance. His ability to break tackles was on full display on his three touchdowns.

On his third touchdown at 12:32 in the third quarter — Ball State’s final score of the night — Steele rushed for 171 yards on 18 attempts. But Toledo’s defense made the necessary adjustments to limit MAC’s first rusher, stuffing the box for the rest of the game and forcing Ball State to throw. Steele rushed for just 27 yards on his last 10 carries, but Ball State’s passing offense was never established as a result of the Rockets’ well-executed defensive strategy.

Quarterback John Paddock completed 13 of 35 passes for 94 yards in the loss. His final accomplishment was a 28-yard strike off tight end Brady Hunt to propel Ball State into Toledo territory at the last minute. That pass was the Cardinals’ only 20-plus-yard completion all night. However, they weren’t able to capitalize on that play, and Paddock threw an interception to strong Toledo safety Maxen Hook on a 4th and 18 do-or-die with the result on the line.

Ball State’s passing game didn’t get any help from its generally strong offensive line. Going into Wednesday, the Cardinals allowed just eight sacks in nine games, but five were given up to a skillful pass from Toledo on Tuesday night. Neither Rocket brought down the quarterback multiple times, but rather it was a balanced effort from a myriad of defenders. But when a play was needed most in Ball State’s last practice, star rusher Jamal Hines delivered a monumental sack to take his career total to 20.5, putting the Cardinals in an unlikely 4th-and-18 spot.

Toledo’s pass rush and coverage was a shining example of mutualism. While the pass rush showed its numbers in the backfield, defensive backs thrived in coverage. Ball State passed at a 37% clip, and deflections played a big part in making that low number. Cornerback Quinyon Mitchell got his hands on three assists, while Hook interrupted two assists before his decisive interception.

The Rockets’ defensive win brought their win total to seven, tying the program’s most successful season since their 2017 MAC title run. second time in the Jason Candle era. The Rockets return to the Glass Bowl for another game next Tuesday, where their heated rivalry with Bowling Green takes place.

Ball State was unable to clinch bowl eligibility on Tuesday night despite never trailing in the second half until the final two minutes. The Cardinals need one more win to secure a playoff bid for the third straight year. In order to lock in that feat, they will challenge Ohio and Miami (OH) in the coming weeks in hopes of a happier outcome.

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