When the University of Toledo football team arrives in Muncie, Ind., tonight, the Rockets are hoping the demons of the past are nowhere to be found.
Twice in the past seven years, Toledo has gone to east-central Indiana unde-feated, and been upset by Ball State. The Rockets (5-2, 3-0) can not afford to fall victim to that hex again, if they are to keep pace with the other leaders in the Mid-American Conference's West Division.
Toledo en-ters the week-end tied for the West lead with Northern Illinois and Bowl-ing Green, two ranked teams that will face each other tomorrow. UT head coach Tom Amstutz has vivid memories of having past championship plans hijacked by Ball State on the Cardinals' home field.
“I remember those games very well, and our players know all about it, too,” Amstutz said. “They have been very tough on us over there, and we should expect them to play this game with the same kind of intensity.”
In 2001, a 5-0 Toledo team that was ranked No. 23 in the country went to Muncie and was upset 24-20 when Ball State returned a kickoff for a touchdown with three minutes left in the game. The Rockets rebounded and went on to win the MAC Championship.
In 1997, a Rocket team that had won its first eight games and moved up to No. 18 in the nation went to Indiana and was stunned 35-3 by the Cardinals - UT's only conference loss in the regular season. The year before a 24-14 loss at Ball State cost Toledo a shot at a share of the MAC title.
“Ball State has always been well-prepared for us, and those games more or less show what can take place in this league - you have to be at your best every time out,” Amstutz said. “You prepare for each game as if the league championship is on the line, because it just might be.”
In 1993, Toledo was sitting on a 30-3 lead midway through the third quarter against the Cardinals, and in the biggest comeback in Ball State history, the Cardinals came back to win 31-30 with a touchdown and extra point on the final play of the game.
This year Ball State (3-4, 2-1) owns wins over Indiana State, Central Michigan and Kent State, and has been pounded by Missouri, Pittsburgh, Boston College, and last week by Miami, 49-3.
“Their record is a little misleading, because they've lost to some pretty good football teams,” Amstutz said. “We never look at records as a part of our preparation, and we're not going to start doing that now.
“We put our full focus on trying to win each game, but when you win, that just means the next time you play it means even more.”
The Rockets are trying to stay in the West lead, aiming for a sixth division title in the past seven years.
Toledo has won or shared the MAC West crown all except one season since the league went to divisions in 1997.
“We're still in the hunt,” Amstutz said. “We're just out there hiding in the bushes a little.”