Saturday's win was certainly uglier than last week's game against Virginia, but the Cardinals overcame turnovers and sloppy play to become bowl eligible for the third consecutive season.
Ball State's (6-1, 3-0) normally potent offense committed two first quarter turnovers. Quarterback Keith Wenning threw an interception into the end zone and on the following drive Jordan Williams fumbled trying to stretch out for a score. The Golden Flashes used these opportunities and a spirited defensive effort, to play the Cardinals to a 7-7 halftime tie. A week ago at Virginia, the Cardinals committed no turnovers and just one penalty.
"You're not always going to be at your best for whatever reason," Ball State head coach Pete Lembo said. "You match up differently against different teams. There are all kinds of factors that go into it."
The second half would continue to be a struggle. Following Wenning's second interception of the game, which Kent State returned to the BSU 1 yard line, the Cardinals stuffed the Golden Flashes and forced a field goal. Trailing 24-20 with under four minutes to play in the game, Wenning hooked up with Willie Snead for 45 yards to bring the Cardinals down to the Kent State 12. With under two minutes left, on fourth down, Wenning would again hook up with Snead on what would prove to be the winning score.
"The defense was giving signals all game," Snead said. "I just caught on and I knew I was going to be wide open."I just walked in."
Wenning certainly was not at his best. Several passes were tipped at the line of scrimmage, and Wenning completed just 50 percent of his passes, his lowest completion percentage all season. Nevertheless, the Ball State senior threw for 300 yards for the seventh consecutive game, the only QB in FBS to do so this season, and shined when it mattered.
"It's never comfortable," Wenning said. "Stressful as ever. But ... we've done it enough times."
That opportunity would not have been available where it not for a stout defensive effort from the Cardinals, stuffing the Golden Flashes deep in their own territory. Nathan Ollie, Jonathan Newsome, and Quintin Cooper combined to stonewall the Flashes, with Ollie making the critical stops on second and third down to force the field goal. The defensive effort gave the Cardinals enough chances on offense to overtake a gritty Kent State squad.
"Nobody panics, nobody loses their poise," Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. "There's no pointing fingers or anything like that on the sideline. It's a tight-knit group, and we all take responsibility, and we all try to keep moving ahead."
The Cardinals can expect to get the best shot from their opponents leading up to the November 13th match up with Northern Illinois. The Huskies held on at home Saturday against Akron 27-20. Next week Ball State travels to Western Michigan to do battle with a Broncos squad still looking for their first win. If the Cardinals and Huskies are able to win out before November 13th, it could make for the one of the best MAC matchups we seen in years. The inspired defensive effort seen Saturday has to encourage Pete Lembo's squad, as defense was the primary concern early in the season.