The Ball State Cardinals (4-3, 2-1 MAC West) found a way to win at home and overcame their slow start against the UConn Huskies on Saturday afternoon, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns to take the lead for the first time in the game with just over 2:40 remaining in the contest. At that point, Connecticut couldn’t find ways to move the ball, despite the first half going exactly to plan for them.
The Cardinals, like they have most of the season, had another slow start, and the Huskies took advantage, taking a 21-10 lead to the locker room at the halftime break. Huskie quarterback Zion Turner didn’t throw an incomplete pass in the first two quarters for 10.1 yards per pass with two touchdowns. The ground game was working as well, ripping off almost seven yards per rush.
Ball State was outgained in the second quarter 164 yards to 85, and it looked like the defense didn’t have any answers. The Huskies were getting to the edge, finding yards and eventually points on three of their five first-half drives.
Whatever was said by head coach Mike Neu and his staff at halftime worked. A different Ball State defense took the field in the second half and shut down the UConn Huskies, who did not score over the remainder of the game.
While the defense was getting off the field regardless of the situation, the offense was finding the soft spots in the Connecticut defense. By the fourth quarter, the Cardinals had their answer: his name was Carson Steele.
After recovering a fumble in Connecticut territory, three consecutive handoffs to Steele covered the 24 yards to the endzone. The next drive was longer, but followed the same script.
With five minutes left in the game and the ball 59 yards from the endzone, Steele carried the ball five times for 57 yards and the touchdown that gave the Cardinals the lead. UConn was unable to move the ball on their final possession and Ball State got the win.
Ball State started with the ball at midfield and drove down to the UConn 37 before giving the ball up via a turnover on downs. A completed pass to Yo’Heinz Tyler came up one yard short on fourth and seven. The Huskies responded with a six play drive that ended with a touchdown to open the scoring. Zion Turner connected with Aaron Turner for a 19-yard touchdown pass down the sideline.
Ball State would answer a few drives later to tie the game with a one-yard touchdown rush on fourth down. The Cardinals went 73-yards on twelve plays that featured receiver Jayshon Jackson with three touches for 37 yards.
Zion Turner and his receiver Justin Joly answered with a 39-yard touchdown pass and catch on the next series. Joly got free in the flat and a short pass was turned upfield where the Ball State defense had clearly lost contain. He ran free for about 20 yards before he needed to start making Ball State defenders miss.
A field goal by Ball State made the score 14-10 UConn. From there the teams traded punts until just under three minutes were left in the half. UConn started at their own 36 and Robert Burns converted a third and seven with a 24-yard run, and Victor Rosa ran for 15 on the next play to the one-yard line. Robert Burns punched it in before the half to make it 21-10.
UConn was firmly in control of this game. Zion Turner was tearing up the Ball State secondary and Burns and Rosa were finding yards wherever they wanted to.
That ended almost immediately. On the third play of the second half, Turner’s pass was intercepted by Cole Pierce. The Cardinals used that possession to put three points on the board and pull within one possession.
Two drives later, a short punt from Ball State gave the Huskies starting field position past the 50. The Cardinal defense made their first impressive stop in the second half when they sacked Zion Turner on 3rd and 3 for an eleven-yard loss. That pushed the Huskies back to only the Ball State 40, but it was 4th and 14. They were forced to punt.
The next Ball State drive ended in an interception and the defense needed to make another stop. This time the ball was on UConn’s own 35 and they were forced to punt in three plays. The Cardinal defense stepped up twice in less than two minutes of game time between drives.
The Cardinal offense started to build their confidence with a 13-play, 40-yard drive culminating in a blocked kick. They moved the ball from their own 30 to the opponent’s 30, which was more than they had done since the first half.
The defense wasn’t done creating opportunities and forced a fumble on a 3rd and 27 to give the ball back to the offense only 24 yards away from the endzone. The Cardinal offense figured out how to score points from here on out and dominated the final eight minutes to get the win.
Running back Carson Steele was slow to get started but finished with 179 yards and three touchdowns to make it happen for the offense. Receiver Jaylon Jackson was carrying the offense in the first half with 11 touches for a total of 100 yards, mostly coming in the first half.
The Huskies host Boston College next week on their drive for six wins and bowl eligibility. It’s not going to be easy for the Huskies but if they find themselves in a bowl game, that roster and Jim Mora deserve a ton of credit.
The Cardinals stay home and host Eastern Michigan and try to get their fourth consecutive win.