Mental mistakes cost Rockets against Ball StateWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the Rockets entered the Glass Bowl on Nov. 6, they were on a roll.
The University of Toledo had won eight straight games and was off to its best start since 2001, earning a spot in the Top 25 for the first time in 11 years.
But 10 penalties and a decision to go for the first down on fourth-and-one rather than attempt the field goal at the Ball State 14-yard line with the score tied at 27 ultimately cost the Rockets in a 34-27 defeat to the Cardinals.
“I think at the end of the day, they made the more disciplined plays throughout the football game,” Toledo head coach Matt Campbell said of Ball State. “And unfortunately, we played behind and did some things that were uncharacteristic of us this season so far, and at the end of the day it caught us.”
Of UT’s 10 penalties for 111 yards, seven of them occurred in the first half and amassed 81 yards. Of those seven, three were personal fouls and one was an unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I think it was a little bit of poise,” Campbell said of the Rockets’ mental errors. “[It] was one of those games where I think the kids knew how much was at stake, and it was one of those football games where you look at it and — again, hindsight 20-20 — it’s one of those things that we’ve got a very veteran football team. I think emotions were high.
“It’s important to our kids, and it’s one of those football games where you look back on it, and those errors were huge.”
Those first-half penalties marred a Toledo rushing attack that churned out 231 yards in the first 30 minutes, 152 of which came on the legs of junior running back David Fluellen.
Fluellen finished with 200 yards on 34 carries with one touchdown, marking the sixth straight game he’s rushed for at least 100 yards and the second consecutive contest he’s garnered at least 200 yards rushing. His only blemish was a second-quarter fumble that was returned 54 yards and set up a Cardinals field goal, which gave Ball State a 17-10 lead.
The Cardinals (7-3, 4-2 Mid-American Conference), on the other hand, jumped out to a 14-0 lead and entered the half tied at 17 despite getting intercepted twice by UT and being limited to 63 rushing yards. Ball State finished the game with just three penalties for 35 yards compared to Toledo’s 10 penalties for 111 yards.
“It really just wasn’t characteristic of us,” senior linebacker Dan Molls said. The nation’s leading tackler, Molls finished with a game-high 16 tackles and had one of UT’s three interceptions. “I don’t know if there was one particular reason. I do know that us being ranked in the Top 25 had nothing to do with anything.
“We came out flat. We didn’t start fast, and that’s what happens when you play from behind the entire game.”
Perhaps the biggest mistake of the game, however, was when the Rockets neglected to attempt a field goal from the Ball State 14-yard line in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 27.
Fluellen, who gave Toledo (8-2, 5-1 MAC) its first lead of the game on a 16-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter, got stopped on a rush up the middle as the Cardinals took over possession with 6:02 to go.
Eleven plays later, Ball State took a 34-27 lead with 1:43 left on the clock, and the Rockets were unable to counter on their final drive. Sophomore kicker Jeremiah Detmer entered the game having made 17 of his 22 field goal attempts this year.
“I really felt we were in a groove,” Campbell said of his decision to go for it rather than send Detmer out for the field goal try. “I felt we had just converted on the fourth-and-one, really, the last time we were down there and thought we had a pretty good beat on what they were going to do.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t execute it. We didn’t make it, and that’s on me.”
UT stills controls its own destiny as far as reaching the MAC Championship. If the Rockets win at Northern Illinois (9-1, 6-0 MAC) on Nov. 14 and defeat Akron (1-9, 0-6 MAC) at home on Nov. 20, they will represent the MAC West Division in the conference’s championship game at Ford Field on Nov. 30.
“Our team is hurting right now,” Campbell said. “But the silver lining is that every goal that we’ve had since the start of the football season is right in front of us.”