Tuesday night marked the advent of midweek #MACtion, a well-cherished time of the year for many college football fans.
So when Ball State wanted to prove its mettle on the national stage, it unleashed Steele.
Running back Carson Steele became an instant favorite for MACtion viewers Tuesday night, not only because the world learned about his pet alligator Crocky-J, but because the true sophomore rushed for a career-high 192 yards in his seventh 100-yard showing of the 2022 season.
The 6’1”, 215 pound Steele — capable of squatting 615 pounds and benching 405 — utilized his strength to shed tacklers throughout the night, trudging through Kent State’s defense to set up the Cardinals’ late go-ahead touchdown, and subsequently powering through resistance for a game-sealing first down on Ball State’s final possession. Steele’s masterclass from the backfield powered Ball State to a 27-20 win over Kent State in the nationally televised showcase.
The ‘Comeback Cardinals’ were established on October 1 when erasing a 21-0 deficit versus Northern Illinois to emerge victorious in overtime fashion, 44-38. Including that game, Ball State now has four double-digit comebacks since the dawn of October. A double-digit comeback occurred once again as Kent State took full control in the first quarter with a 13-0 lead, but Ball State quickly erased Kent State’s progress with 20 unanswered points — including 17 in the second quarter.
Steele put the Cardinals on the board roughly one minute into the second quarter on a 15-yard run. Later in the frame, quarterback John Paddock launched a deep ball to a wide open Jayshon Jackson, who shed a defender near the goal line to provide Ball State its first lead of the night. As dominant as Steele was, Ball State aired it out quite frequently in its 2022 midweek debut. Paddock’s arm experienced 41 reps, and 10 of his completions landed in the breadbasket of Jackson, who finished with 102 yards in a stellar showing.
On the first drive after halftime, Ball State extended its lead to 20-13 on Ben VonGunten’s second field goal of the night. After VonGunten split the uprights, defenses reigned supreme in the contest, and each of the next nine possessions resulted in zero points. Kent State pierced into Ball State territory several times during this stretch, but the Cardinal defense forced two red zone stops — one which led to a missed field goal and another which ended in a turnover on downs.
Kent State’s failure to convert 4th and 1 from the 11-yard line was critical, but it didn’t ruin the team’s chances of getting back into the ballgame. The Golden Flashes tied it up at 20 apiece on a 23-yard Marquez Cooper sprint to the end zone in the fourth quarter. Then in response to Kent State’s first points since the opening period, Paddock found tight end Tanner Koziol in the back corner of the end zone to retake the lead at 27-20. But in need of a touchdown in the final 3:21 of clock, the Golden Flashes offense fell short of the sticks.
On a 4th and 3 from the 48-yard line right before midfield, quarterback Collin Schlee scrambled outside the pocket and had space to pick up the first down. However, he slid before the marker, causing an unfortunate turnover on downs for Kent State, which never regained possession of the ball.
Despite failing to convert multiple key fourth downs on the ground, Kent State’s rushing attack produced a strong showing Tuesday night. Cooper attained 168 yards on the ground, surpassing 130 yards for the fourth time in five games. Schlee, returning to the lineup after missing the previous game, added 42 with his legs. As a passer, the quarterback recorded 183 passing yards in the absence of his top receiver Dante Cephas. Without Cephas in the receiving corps, Ja’Shaun Poke took over as the preferred target with a career-high 13 receptions and 87 yards.
The Ball State and Kent State matchup produced fewer points than expected, but it wasn't due to an onslaught of turnovers. Outside of Paddock’s interception on the Cardinals’ first possession of the night, the game remained free of any takeaways. Instead, defensive stops were the move, and Ball State witnessed three of its defenders register 11 or more tackles — Clayton Coll, Cole Pearce, and Jordan Riley. Pearce was especially commanding with his presence at the line of scrimmage with three tackles for loss and a sack in the victory.
Ball State’s win pushes the Cardinals win total to five, and now the team is one win away from its third consecutive bowl appearance. At 5-4 overall and 3-2 in the conference, the Cardinals look to capture that elusive sixth win against MAC West frontrunner Toledo next Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Kent State is pushed to the brink of bowl ineligibility with its sixth loss of 2022. The Golden Flashes are 3-6 overall and 2-3 in MAC play, and must run through the gauntlet of Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, and Buffalo to ensure its streak of non-losing seasons extends to four.