Freshman quarterback Joshua Cribbs rushed for 147 yards on just 11 carries, and his defensive teammates rose to the occasion in the pivotal third quarter as the Golden Flashes rolled to a 31-18 victory over host Ball State (4-5) _ which can still clinch the West title by winning at Northern Illinois next Saturday.
"This was a great win over a really good football team on the road," said coach Dean Pees, whose Flashes improved to 5-5 on the year and will now have a chance to finish the season with a winning record for the first time since 1987. "It was a total team effort."
Cribbs led a big-play Kent State offense that produced 404 yards of total offense despite running just 51 plays, including a season-high 309 yards on the ground in 37 attempts.
Meanwhile, the Flashes defense picked off three passes, caused a fumble and forced the Cardinals to punt on all three possessions in the third quarter, when Pees' troops scored two touchdowns to break the game wide open.
Ball State's opening possession netted a 36-yard Mike Langford field goal, but Cribbs answered immediately by racing 29 yards to paydirt on a quarterback draw to give his team the lead for good.
After Kent State's defense forced the Cardinals to turn the ball over on downs at the KSU 23-yard line, Cribbs spearheaded a seven-play, 77-yard TD march by ripping off runs of 39 and 20 yards. Senior fullback DeMarlo Rozier scored from two yards out, increasing the lead to 14-3.
Ball State trimmed the deficit to 14-11 just before halftime when Marcus Merriweather scored on a 3-yard run and quarterback Talmadge Hill connected with Tim Streit for the two-point conversion.
Merriweather rushed for nearly 120 yards in the first half, but wound up with just 160 yards on 35 carries. He found little running room in the third quarter, when the Cardinals didn't manage a single first down.
Hill, the reigning MAC Freshman of the Year, struggled mightily all afternoon (12-of-23, 93 yards, 3 INTs).
"They just dominated in the second half," said Cardinals coach Bill Lynch. "They came out and thoroughly beat us."
After Ball State opened the second half by going three-and-out, Cribbs connected with senior wide receiver Jurron Kelly for a 16-yard score that increased Kent State's lead to 21-11.
Then the Flashes took complete control when sophomore tailback David Alston took an option pitch from Cribbs, broke a tackle and raced 52 yards for a touchdown and a 28-11 cushion.
Alston finished with 74 yards on nine carries, while senior Chante Murphy chipped in 81 yards on 13 attempts.
"If you are going to run the ball (on Ball State), you have to get on the perimeter," said Pees. "We did that to start the second half, and that opened things up inside."
The Cardinals briefly found life in the fourth quarter, when Merriweather scored on a 1-yard run to cut the deficit to 31-18 and Ball State recovered the ensuing on-side kick. But Kent State freshman free safety Shannon Davis picked off a Hill pass to end the Cardinals' final threat.