The win streak, which lasted a little more than two months, is over. So is the national ranking, which lasted a little more than two days.
At least a conference title is still in sight.
Playing for the first time in 11 years as a ranked team, No. 23 Toledo put forth a yucky fourth quarter and fell 34-27 to Ball State on Tuesday in front of 18,211 fans at the Glass Bowl.
Toledo, which had won eight in a row, began its final drive with 1 minute, 37 seconds to go and soon faced fourth-and-8 from its own 27. Terrance Owens couldn’t fire off a clean pass attempt with defensive tackle Nathan Ollie pulling him to the turf, effectively ending the game.
The Cardinals (7-3, 4-2 Mid-American Conference) converted two third downs on the game-winning drive before Jahwan Edwards broke free outside on a 15-yard run with 1:43 left. The Rockets, who were out of timeouts, conceded the score, wishing to get the ball back with as much time remaining as possible.
Beyond ranking implications, the outcome means little because Toledo still controls its own destiny to Detroit for the MAC title game. If the Rockets win next Wednesday’s showdown at West leader Northern Illinois, then again at home the following week against Akron, they will capture the West championship.
"Obviously no loss is a good loss, but there's a lot we can take away from this game and there's a lot we can learn that's going to help put us in the best situation next week to win the game," linebacker Dan Molls said.
Toledo coach Matt Campbell made a curious decision midway through the half when he passed up a 32-yard field goal try that would have put his team ahead. The offensive line got minimal push, and David Fluellen came up about a yard short on fourth-and-2.
Campbell defended the decision, noting a successful fourth-down conversion earlier in the half, before shouldering the blame.
"I'll put that one on my shoulders," he said.
Ball State’s Steven Schott, who leads the nation in field goals made, converted a 30-yarder to tie the game at 27-27 early in the fourth quarter. He missed from 35 earlier in the half.
Fluellen, who had two touchdowns removed from the scoreboard in the first half by penalties, burst up the middle on fourth down to open the fourth quarter with a 16-yard score.
Setting up the drive that which put Toledo ahead for the first time — 27-24 — was an interception by Molls, who had to twist his body to catch a ball that quarterback Keith Wenning threw behind him. Wenning, who was effective when he wasn’t turning the ball over, threw three picks.
Fluellen (34 carries for 200 yards) notched his sixth straight 100-yard game. Amazingly, three of those games are 200-yard efforts.
Two penalties nullified first-half touchdowns by Fluellen. Alonzo Russell more or less tackled a cornerback trying to clear room on a 36-yard scamper. That misstep was forgiven the next play when Owens whistled a 24-yard strike to Bernard Reedy, who had ran past the safety.
"We live with it. We go onto the next play," Fluellen said. "We all make mistakes."
Reedy’s penalty for blocking in the back at the line of scrimmage voided a 13-yard Fluellen TD run, and the Rockets added three points instead of seven on Jeremiah Detmer’s 29-yard field goal. Detmer added a 22-yarder in the second half, his 13th straight successful field goal.
A series of bad luck and bad decisions cost Toledo in the first half. Fluellen fumbled at about the 25 after cornerback Jason Pinkston delivered a hit on the ball with his helmet. Linebacker Tony Martin scooped the ball and rumbled 54 yards to the 11, setting up a field goal. The Rockets had to make two third-down stops on the drive after Colby Kratch drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for head-butting a Cardinal.
Ball State came out blazing in the first half, traveling 82 and 87 yards to go up 14-0. Wenning beat safety Ross Madison — who started in place of injured Mark Singer — on an out route to Jamill Smith for six yards on the first drive and found Connor Ryan for a 25-yard catch-and-run six minutes later.
Wenning, who made his 32nd consecutive start, completed 12 straight passes for 135 yards after a miscommunication on the first play of the game caused him to overthrow his receiver. He was intercepted twice in the half, by Byron Best and by Cheatham Norrils.
Toledo rallied back from the early hole and tied the game at 17-17 with 54 seconds to go before halftime on Cassius McDowell’s three-yard run.