Jahwan Edwards scored untouched on a 15-yard run around left end with 1:43 left to propel the Cardinals to a 34-27 victory over the 23rd-ranked Rockets on Tuesday night, ending Toledo's eight-game winning streak.
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"This is a tremendous win," Edwards exulted in the chill while his smiling teammates were filing out of the locker room. "Going 6-6 last year and barely scratching the surface of going to a bowl game. Now we're bowl eligible - plus one. And this is not the end."
Edwards' run capped an 86-yard drive after Ball State's beleaguered defense had stopped the Rockets (8-2, 5-1 Mid-American Conference) a yard short on David Fluellen's run on fourth-and-2 at the Cardinals 15.
Edwards finished with 105 yards on 16 carries.
Mocked and belittled all season for allowing an average of 33 points per game, the defense came up big Tuesday night.
"It's a great feeling. I wouldn't have my senior year any other way," said linebacker Tony Martin, who set up a field goal with a 54-yard fumble return and also was in on the play that stopped Fluellen. "This is the first time we've beaten Toledo. It's been kind of a wild game the first three years and we finally came in here, national TV, and they were ranked and we got them. I couldn't have drawn a better picture."
Keith Wenning completed 29 of 42 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns, but was intercepted three times for Ball State (7-3, 4-2).
Second-year coach Pete Lembo grinned at the thought that his team was outgained, had three turnovers (to the Rockets' one) and still came out on top.
"It's significant, there's no question," he said of the victory. "We've come a long way in two years. We've done some special things this year, and this is as special as anything else we've done. And it's neat that we still have two games left - hopefully now, three."
The Cardinals were already bowl eligible. Now they're hoping that the big win might assure them an attractive postseason berth.
Meanwhile, the Rockets were inconsolable.
"We played behind the football most of the night," first-year Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. "Critical errors in critical situations cost us the football game."
Fluellen ran for at least 200 yards for the third game this season, carrying 34 times for 200 yards and a touchdown.
Toledo jumped into the Associated Press Top 25 this week for the first time since 2001. Three days later, they are likely on their way out.
The loss dropped Toledo a game back of first-place Northern Illinois in the MAC's West Division. The Rockets and Huskies meet Nov. 14 in DeKalb, Ill.
Toledo's only previous loss this season came in its opener, a 24-17 setback in overtime at Arizona.
It was the 38th meeting in the series -- an annual occurrence since 1975 -- with Toledo now holding a 19-18-1 upper hand.
The game, back and forth all night, tilted on two late drives.
With the score tied at 27, Toledo drove to a fourth-and-2 at the Cardinals 15 with 6:02 left. Campbell passed up an almost certain 32-yard field goal with the accurate Jeremiah Detmer warming up on the sideline that would have given his team the lead.
Instead, the Rockets went for it. Fluellen carried up the middle and was stacked up, running into the back of one of his own blockers before being snowed under by defenders. He came up a foot short.
"Hindsight is 20/20," Campbell said. "I really felt we were in a groove. We had just made a fourth-and-1 (on their final touchdown). Was it the right decision? Obviously not."
Lembo wasn't a bit surprised. He said he would have gone for it, too.
"They have a lot of confidence in their offense," he said. "And they should, with those players."
With Edwards picking up good yardage on the ground and Wenning hitting timely passes, the Cardinals drove from their own 14. They converted a third-and-19 on Wenning's 19-yard completion to Connor Ryan and later Wenning hooked up with Zane Fakes on a 4-yard gain on third-and-3 at the Toledo 19.
Two plays later, Edwards took a handoff and outraced one tackler at the edge to score the pivotal TD.
"We came up to the line and five linemen were in the box so I just stuck with it and picked my speed up and turned the corner and tried to get to the end zone," he said.
The only thing that worried Lembo was that the Cardinals might have scored too soon.
But the defense made the lead stand.
Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens, who was 14 of 27 for 215 yards with no interceptions and a 24-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Reedy, gained seven yards on first down but was sacked for a 5-yard loss by Nathan Ollie. Two incompletions, both while being pressured, sent a smallish crowd of 18,211 home unhappy from the Glass Bowl.
Lembo said his defense has improved steadily.
"We've played a lot better in the last four or five games," he said. "We're not perfect. Obviously we still gave up some big plays tonight. But we are getting enough stops."