*Editor’s note: This is was a story I wrote earlier in the semester. Thought I’d share it with you. Enjoy.
Prior to Ball State’s 52-27 rout over Ohio Nov. 14, Kelly Page saw the field one time.
He was a member of the hands team for an onside kick in what resulted in a 41-30 victory at Central Michigan, Oct. 20.
Page envisioned getting a few reps near the end of the game against the Bobcats, but never thought he’d be at the center of attention, much less bring Ball State (8-3, 5-2) back twice in a pivotal Mid-American Conference game.
“It went through my head, but nothing like this,” Page said.
After junior starting quarterback Keith Wenning caught a 17-yard pass on a trick play from wide receiver Jamill Smith, Wenning was tackled by a Bobcats’ defender and landed awkwardly on his right ankle. The injury sidelined him for the rest of the game.
In stepped Page – the senior backup quarterback – with less than five minutes remaining in what proved to be the biggest game of his life. On his first play from scrimmage, with Ohio clinging to a 17-14 lead, Page darted seven yards into the end zone, putting Ball State ahead 21-17 at halftime.
The play was one of many leading to the Cardinals’ noteworthy performance against one of the best defenses in the conference, and left Ball State coach Pete Lembo in awe.
“I’m just taken back by what an amazing story this is,” Lembo said. “What you just saw was pretty special.”
With Page set to direct the offense in the second half, Lembo said the offensive game plan wasn’t altered at halftime. Rather, Lembo felt like his team needed to run the ball more efficiently in the final two quarters.
“We needed to stay on the field, keep pounding (the running game) and try to maintain time of possession,” Lembo said. “Kelly ran the offense. He ran it well. (I’m) extremely proud of him.”
On Ohio’s opening drive of the second half, junior running back Beau Blankenship took the handoff from junior quarterback Tyler Tetleton and sprinted 58 yards into the end zone, giving the Bobcats a 24-21 advantage.
With his team trailing again, Page wasn’t rattled. Neither were the rest of the Cardinals – it took them just 40 seconds to respond.
Sophomore running back Jahwan Edward dashed 68 yards to the Ohio 3-yard line, setting up a three-yard touchdown pass from Page to junior tight end Zane Fakes, putting Ball State ahead 28-24. The scoring play was the first of two touchdown receptions for Fakes.
Ball State added a field goal from Steven Schott to widen the gap to 31-24 before Ohio converted a 34-yard field goal off the foot of pace kicker Matt Weller to narrow the deficit to 31-27. It was then when the Ball State defense put a stop to the Ohio running game.
After yielding 208 rushing yards through three quarters, Ball State senior linebacker Travis Freeman and the rest of the defense held Ohio to just 59 total yards and three points in the fourth quarter. Freeman said the ability to maintain Ohio’s explosive running game was all about having the right mindset to execute on defense.
“We put our foot in the ground and we (stopped) the run,” Freeman said. “Guys just wanted to get the job done and they did it.”
With the Ohio offense stuck in neutral, Ball State continued to dominate, scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including Page’s second touchdown pass to Fakes – this time for a 13-yard score, giving the Cardinals a 45-27 advantage. Another touchdown later and Ball State secured its fifth consecutive victory.
After the game, Page found his mother, Kim, in the stands and motioned her to come down to the field. The two hugged for a brief moment, bringing the Ball State quarterback to tears.
“My mother is my backbone,” Page said, fighting back the tears. “She’s had my back in everything that I’ve ever done. That moment was something that I’ll never forget.”
Neither will Ball State.