Ball State (4-8, 3-5 MAC West) had an opportunity with just over a minute left on the clock to ruin Miami’s season with a one-point win in the season finale on Saturday afternoon, but Miami (10-2, 7-1 MAC East) hung on after a blocked field goal with 1:04 left in the game to preserve the 17-15 triumph.
Despite Miami quarterback Aveon Smith (14-of-24 passing, 171 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions) turning in a performance you really don’t want to see from a team going to the conference title, the Cardinals’ special teams sent any and all hope of an upset comfortably outside range.
Ball State let their running game set the norm, supplied by minimal but accurate passing. If not for two interceptions, Ball State’s Kiael Kelly would’ve turned in a superb day—14 completions on 19 attempts and a touchdown, if only for 91 yards. The Cardinals logged an astonishing 5.2 yards per carry on a championship-caliber defense, and the offense totaled 21 first downs, 15 of which were picked up on the ground. Those 15 conversions on the gronud were three more than Miami’s total number of first downs (12.)
Miami almost lost the game completely in the second half. They managed only three points in the back two quarters, with their non-scoring second half drives ending in a turnover-on-downs, a punt, and two interceptions. The second interception almost doomed them, as it gave the Cardinals the ball at Miami’s 16-yard line. Kiael Kelly would run the ball the full distance in on third-and-10 from that spot, but a holding penalty would push the ball back, eventually leading to Ball State’s ill-fated field goal attempt.
It was a pop-up symptom of the Cardinals’ inability to finish drives, as they hadn’t displayed their highest level of competence all game. Ball State wound up settling for four field goal attempts and scoring only one touchdown— which had a blocked extra point— and earning a meager three points in the second half. Very much a defensive battle, this game.
There comes a point where the ticky-tack mounts up, and for Ball State that was special teams. A missed extra point and the blocked field goal cost the Cardinals this win, and could’ve at least salvaged something out of a year full of extreme highs and lows.
Ball State’s season ends with the Cardinals falling out of potential postseason play at 4-8. They found a rhythm in their running game later in the season, but it was too late to make up for the woeful performances of the first seven games. If Ball State keeps Mike Neu around, look for the Cardinals to keep that ground game around—it worked wonders for them later in the conference slate.
Miami’s season continues on to Detroit, where they will play Toledo for the MAC title in a repeat of 2019’s title match.