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2023 MAC Football Week 12 Game Recap: Ball State Cardinals 34, Kent State Golden Flashes 3

Ball State’s running game couldn’t be contained, with the Cards racking up four scores on the ground.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The Ball State Cardinals (4-7, 3-4 MAC West) had been riding a bit of a productive streak entering this week’s contest against the Kent State Golden Flashes (1-10, 0-7 MAC East), with a 2-2 win over the last month after starting the year 1-5. That streak rolled along on Saturday afternoon, as the Cardinals pulled off a 34-3 victory over the Flashes at Scheumann Stadium.

The victory was a dominant effort on both sides, with the offense plowing turf for four rushing touchdowns and the defense limiting the Flashes to 97 total yards over four quarters of play. It’s the Cardinals’ third win in their last four games, and now places them on the outside looking in for a potential bowl bid by Academic Progress Ranking (APR) should they win out the season.

Ball State was the first team to draw blood after an exchange of punts, with Jackson Courville hitting a career-long 44-yard field goal to put the Cardinals up 3-0 with 6:58 remaining in the first quarter.

Kent State had nothing for a ferocious Ball State defense, putting up a six-play, 35-yard drive and a three-play, one-score drive both resulting in punts. The offense made them pay, converting the kicks into a Marquez Cooper touchdown run and a new career-high 48-yard field goal from Jackson Courville to further extend the BSU lead to 17-0 with 10:38 to go in the second quarter.

The Flashes would get their best scoring chance on their last drive of the first half, as a personal foul penalty on Ball State’s Loren Strickland would give KSU 15 free yards on the first play of the series. On fourth-and-three from the BSU 25-yard line, backup QB Devin Kargman, who came in during the drive as an injury replacement for Tommy Ulatowski, would find Trell Harris for a five-yard conversion to continue the drive.

Unfortunately for Kent State, their next three plays would lose seven yards, forcing them to kick a field goal from 45 yards out. Andrew Glass’ kick was true, putting the score at 17-3 with 42 seconds remaining before halftime.

On the next drive, the Kent State defense managed to bring down Kiael Kelly on a seven-yard scramble to get a third-down stop with under 30 seconds to go, but Kent State head coach Kenni Burns opted not to call the team’s final timeout, electing instead to let the clock run out and go into halftime down 14 points.

The Flashes would never get another scoring chance after that, with Ball State taking the opportunity to go on a 21-0 second half run. All three scores were on the ground, with Kiael Kelly finding paydirt twice in third quarter and Vaughn Pemberton would score his first touchdown of 2023 to round out the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s contest was perhaps Ball State’s most effective effort of the season. The offense outgained Kent State 388-97 in offensive yards (including a 300-68 margin in rushing yards), held the ball for over 36 minutes and converted 7-of-15 third-down attempts, while the defense collected 10 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, forced eight punts, created a turnover-on-downs in the redzone and held KSU to just 1-of-12 on third-down.

Kiael Kelly did what he needed to from the quarterback spot for Ball State, completing 4-of-14 passes for 71 yards while picking up 88 yards on 16 carries, scoring twice on the ground. Marquez Cooper picked up his third 100+ yard rushing game of the 2023 campaign, finishing the afternoon with 25 carries for 140 yards and a score. Vaughn Pemberton had 61 yards and a touchdown in the late going. Ahmad Edwards led BSU with two receptions for 50 yards.

Ball State linebacker Sidney Houston was a man possessed on Saturday, with six total tackles, including 4.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks on the day (all team-highs) while also notching a pass break-up. Fellow backer Keionte Newsom held the joint-lead for total tackles, while also collecting two TFLs and a sack. Tyler “Red” Potts continued his shut-down play with a team-leading two pass break-ups.

It was a nightmare day for Kent State on both sides of the ball, as a combination of injuries and bad play subjected them to 60 minutes of torture.

Tommy Ulatowski started the game at quarterback, but left late in the second quarter after taking a hard hit to the head/shoulder/chest area on a slide attempt. He finished 3-of-10 for 16 yards passing. Devin Kargman took the majority of snaps, finishing 5-of-12 for 52 yards.

Gavin Garcia (seven rushes, 29 yards) and Jaylin Thomas (11 carries, 24 yards) took the majority of carries, though their usage decreased as the scoring gap increased. Luke Floriea (team-leading 38 yards) and Trell Harris (13 yards) each had three receptions to top the receiving charts for either side.

Josh Baka and Bryce Sheppert each had eight tackles to lead the Golden Flashes defense, while three different players each notched a pass break-up. Sayed Abuhamdeh and Stephen Daley were credited for a combination sack, with Daley leading the team in tackles-for-loss (1.5.)

Ball State finishes the season hosting the MAC East champion Miami RedHawks, while Kent State finishes their season hosting Northern Illinois. Both games are scheduled to kick off next Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m. Eastern time.