At the end of the first quarter, Ball State led Toledo 7-3 in Muncie. But the Cardinals waved goodbye to their brief lead once the Rockets put fuel in their engine.
Toledo accumulated 602 yards of total offense, and ignited the unit the second quarter. In the period, the Rockets scored 21 unanswered, establishing their dominance over the MAC West's bottom-dwelling Ball State Cardinals.
Ball State suffered a series of setbacks early on. Third-string quarterback Zack Blair made his first career start but exited the game on the team's second possession due to injury. As a result, freshman Drew Plitt would check in for his first-ever action under center.
Several possessions later, the Cardinals lost their star player in Anthony Winbush. The defensive end ranked second in the nation in sacks with 9.5 entering Thursday's contest but had to be helped off the field by trainers.
Ball State's first drive ended in miserable fashion. The Cardinals' punt was tipped at the line of scrimmage and went straight up into the air. Toledo's Danzel McKinley-Lewis scooped up the punt and weaved his way to the Cardinals' 11-yard line. In what was a mini victory for Mike Neu's team, Ball State held Logan Woodside and the Rockets to just three points on the possession.
Ball State would actually take a 7-3 lead several drives later. Malik Dunner ran the ball 41 yards for a touchdown — Ball State's first touchdown since September 23. The Cardinals were prevented from reaching the end zone in each of their previous three contests.
As soon as the first quarter struck triple zeros, Toledo was alarmed at the sight of the scoreboard and decided to turn things around. Terry Swanson bolted for a 71-yard sprint and beat all the Cardinals' defenders down the field to give the Rockets a 10-7 lead.
Then, Woodside found Desmond Phillips on a post route down the middle of the field on the ensuing Toledo drive. Phillips' touchdown — his second of the season — provided Toledo a two-score lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Woodside connected with his receiver Diontae Johnson for a 67-yard score in a three-play possession to make things 24-10 at Scheumann Stadium. But Ball State injected some life into the offense and would chip in a Morgan Hagee field goal right before halftime.
In the second half, the Toledo offense continued to roll with the long touchdowns. Jason Candle's team would average 39.9 yards per play in the third quarter. Its next touchdown was arguably the most impressive of the night. Woodside threw a jump ball to midfield and Diontae Johnson tipped it in the air to himself. During the tip drill, he lost Ball State's defender and walked into the end zone for an impressive 88-yard score to extend the lead to 30-10 after a missed extra point. It was Woodside's final touchdown pass of the night, and the quarterback finished with three touchdowns on just eight completions, with an astounding 267 yards (33.4 per completion).
Then, Diontae Johnson would achieve his hat trick. Several drives after a McKinley-Lewis punt return touchdown was called back due to holding, Johnson would actually field a punt and bring it home for six. Johnson took the punt on the right side of the field, sprinted left, tightroped on the sideline, stayed in bounds, and finished on the right side of the field for an 87-yard punt return. Toledo would lead 37-10.
Next drive, the Rockets would change things up and only score a one-yard touchdown. Terry Swanson and Danzel McKinley-Lewis helped set up Shakif Seymour for the score and Toledo would extend its lead to 44-10.
But Seymour would earn another touchdown from 63 yards out on his very next run on Toledo's following possession. At that point, the Rockets would score 27 unanswered points to lead 51-10 over the struggling Cardinals.
But Ball State would finally respond. Plitt kept the ball on the ground several times on the possession and finished with his first-career score — a 4-yard touchdown run to bring the Cardinals within 40, 51-17.
Toledo initially scored another 70+ yard touchdown but the ball carrier was ruled short of the goal line. Immediately after the play, the refs decided to end the third quarter. To start up the game's final frame, backup quarterback Michael Julian ran it in on a read option for his first touchdown of the 2017 season. The score lifted the Rockets up to 58 points.
It was an all-around dominant offensive performance for the Rockets, who scored 55 points in the game's final three quarters. Because of Toledo's quick scoring, Ball State dominated time of possession by holding onto the ball for a total of over 37 minutes.
Toledo scored a total of five touchdowns over 60 yards and three of over 70. The Rockets' averaged touchdown checked in at 51.75 yards per score. Now, 58 points is the most Toledo has scored this season. For Ball State, 17 is the most it scored in the month of October.
In one of the more bizarre results of the game, Toledo finished 1-of-8 on third downs, often finishing drives before the team would even need to snap it on third down. No touchdown drive for the Rockets lasted longer than four plays.
Johnson was the MVP of the night. The wide receiver returned a punt for 87 yards and a touchdown and also achieved a career-high 170 receiving yards. The sophomore caught four passes, two good for touchdowns.
Toledo now sits at 7-1 and atop the MAC West. Ball State is as separated from the Rockets as possible, falling to 0-4 in conference and 2-6 overall. The Cardinals are one game away from missing bowl season for the fourth consecutive year, dropping their fifth-straight on Thursday night.