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HomeSportsUT
Published: Saturday, 10/15/2005

Ball State tough at home

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

MUNCIE, Ind. - Football games don't often produce genuinely funny moments, but that wasn't the case on Oct. 9, 1993, when the University of Toledo played at Ball State and a gaggle of gridiron gremlins was first loosed upon the Rockets.

The game sponsor that day was the Indiana Pork Growers Association and the stadium announcer took advantage of every opportunity to shill for the sponsor, always adding the catchy phrase, "Pork, the other white meat."

When UT scored late in the third quarter to seemingly turn the game into a rout, the announcer could stand no more.

"The kick is good," he said. "The score is Toledo 30, Ball State, the other white meat, 3."

Had he heard it from his post on the sideline, even the stoic one, ex-UT coach Gary Pinkel, might have cracked a smile at that line.

If so, it was the last time he smiled that afternoon, if not that season.

Ball State answered with four straight touchdowns, the last coming as the clock ticked to 0:00, and stunned the Rockets 31-30.

Toledo spun out from there and finished 4-7 during Pinkel's only losing season in 10 years at Toledo. Conversely, Ball State was en route to the Mid-American Conference championship and a bowl berth.

Starting with that '93 collapse, UT has lost five of its last six games here. Most of them were upsets and Toledo, it must be noted, takes a 4-1 overall record and a 2-0 MAC mark into this afternoon's game at Ball State Stadium.

The Rockets were 5-1 in league play when they lost 24-14 in 1996, the Cardinals aided by a phantom roughing-the-punter penalty that led to the clinching touchdown.

UT was 8-0 and ranked in the top 20 of both national polls when Ball State routed its guests 35-3 in '97.

The Rockets were a Top 25 team with a 5-0 record in 2001 when the Cards prevailed 24-20. Late in the game, the Rockets had a first down at the Ball State 15 before the officials assessed three consecutive holding penalties against Toledo.

Finally, UT was 3-0 in league play in '03, but took it on the chin by 38-14.

"I don't care about all that stuff," said Toledo coach Tom Amstutz. "I don't believe in voodoo or jinxes or the curse of the Bambino. Quite frankly, Ball State has outplayed us. Our mental attitude has not been quite right and they've played hard.

"We need to make sure we're emotionally ready. We called on our seniors this week to make sure our preparation is done right and that we execute and play with emotion in the game."

The Cardinals are 1-4, but have been through a meat-grinder of a non-conference schedule and are coming off a 60-57, five-overtime victory at Western Michigan.

"It will be nice to be home after playing four of our first five games on the road," said BSU coach Brady Hoke. "But we have a great opponent coming in."

The Cardinals have said that before, but almost always rise to the occasion on their home field against Toledo. Perhaps part of the problem is that BSU's field is natural grass and the Rockets are recognized as a team built for speed on artificial turf.

"Sure, I feel faster on turf," said UT linebacker Mike Alston. "But that's no excuse. Remember, before we got here, we spent our whole lives playing on grass. We just have to play a good game. We're not focusing on the past."

Added fellow linebacker David Thomas: "Football is football, on grass, turf or concrete. It's just another challenge."

Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski said it's obvious that "Ball State loves playing Toledo. But the game is about leadership and all of our captains were on the travel squad two years ago when we played there. We remember and we've taken it upon ourselves to make sure our team is ready this time."

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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