UT's Chearham Norrils, right, breaks up a pass intended for Ball State's Jordan Williams.
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MUNCIE, Ind. — There are two lasting images from the University of Toledo’s 31-24 loss Saturday to Ball State, and both involve the coach yelling.
Encouraged that his University of Toledo football team stood within a touchdown after playing a mediocre first half, Matt Campbell stopped his players at the edge of the north end zone at Scheumann Stadium, ordered them to take a knee, and delivered an impassioned halftime speech in front of more than 18,000 spectators.
"He always tries to make his point," quarterback Terrance Owens said. "He made it."
He made his next point by throwing his headset — and his trademark faded blue Rockets ball cap — after a controversial no-call sealed his team’s fate in a matchup they almost had to have and nearly did.
Untimely turnovers and penalties, combined with another harrowing episode of Keith Wenning’s fourth-quarter heroics, doomed Toledo. The Rockets, who tied the game twice with fourth-quarter touchdowns, flinched first in a Mid-American Conference West division race that figures to involve just three teams.
Campbell was anxious after the game to watch the tape, hoping to get clarity on the 10 penalties his team committed for 97 yards. Mostly he wished to review a play he felt should have incurred a flag but did not. His team’s chances of securing a key road win fizzled after a failed conversion at midfield, with Owens and Alonzo Russell unable to convert on fourth-and-6. Safety Dae’Shaun Hurley gave tight coverage, and as Campbell saw it, the coverage was a little too tight.
"It certainly looked like there was a penalty there, but again, I’ll have to look at the videotape to see if I’m correct on that," said Campbell, who had cooled down by the time he addressed the media.
There was a little more than a minute left, enough time for Owens to engineer a third fourth-quarter touchdown and answer Wenning’s drive from moments earlier.
"Obviously we didn’t execute," said Owens, who liked Russell’s chances in the slot against man coverage. "I felt like it was a penalty, but the refs didn’t see it that way."
Russell, who caught nine passes for 147 yards, wanted no role in critiquing the officials.
"I’m just here to make plays, not to call penalties," he said.
Ball State (4-1, 2-0) drew one flag for 10 yards.
Toledo's Cameron Cole, right, breaks up a pass intended for Ball State's Willie Snead in Saturday’s game. The Rockets fell to 2-3, 1-1 in the Mid-American Conference.
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After consecutive weeks of game plans heavy on runs, Owens let loose with his arm. He was 34 of 46 for 274 yards and found Russell in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter. He was intercepted on the first drive after halftime trying to throw the ball away.
A botched handoff with running back David Fluellen the next series resulted in a turnover inside BSU’s 10.
"Just a [bad] exchange, I guess," Owens said. "He dropped the ball out of his hands when he got it."
Fluellen went over 100 yards for the fourth week in a row, notching 129 yards and a touchdown on 27 attempts. His one-yard run with 6:20 to go tied the score at 24.
One week after Campbell called a 21-point win at Central Michigan the most complete victory in his tenure, the Rockets (2-3, 1-1) were a disjointed bunch. The offense couldn’t do much of anything in the first half, posting four straight three-and-outs and leading to only a 44-yard Jeremiah Detmer field goal. Meanwhile, the defense kept the dam from caving against the MAC’s top-ranked scoring offense and turned a Wenning fumble into a 23-yard touchdown by Junior Sylvestre. Jayrone Elliott’s sack knocked the ball loose.
As the offense started to roll in the fourth quarter, the defense softened. Wenning put together drives of 60 and 71 yards to erase both Toledo touchdowns in the quarter. He handed off to Jahwan Edwards (89 yards, three TDs) for the final score with 3:13 left. The drive was reminiscent of last season’s game at the Glass Bowl when Wenning drove the Cardinals 86 yards late in the fourth quarter for a 34-27 win.
Campbell, after he finished lecturing the officiating crew, sought out Wenning on the field to pay his respects. The senior from Coldwater, Ohio, totaled 335 yards passing, his fifth straight outing of 300 yards or more. Wenning did not throw a touchdown pass, but he moved the ball effectively with the help of Jamill Smith (11 catches, 99 yards) and Willie Snead (seven catches, 131).
"You have to use intelligence and you have to be able to disguise some things because if you don’t he’s going to pick you apart," Campbell said. "I think his intelligence on top of his ability is certainly one of the things that makes him impressive."
As the team jogged to the gate near their locker room at half, Campbell sprinted ahead and began yelling. The locker room is small, he said, and he wanted to address the team at once.
He said, "Go be a champion," Russell said.
Attaining that objective just got a lot harder.