By: Donnie Harmon
Ball State Sports Link
Entering Saturday’s road game against Eastern Michigan, the Ball State football team had seen massive improvements the past two weeks beating Army and Western Michigan both by double-digits.
While the overall team performance outweighed any negatives in those games, Ball State struggled mightily on the ground in those games, rushing for just 65 yards as a team against Western Michigan, and 36 yards against Army on 1.4 yards per carry.
That trend did not continue Saturday, as true freshman running back Carson Steele exploded for 138 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
Steele, who won Indiana Mr. Football at Center Grove high school in 2020, had shown flashes of his potential throughout the season, but Saturday was his breakout performance as he set a new career-high in rushing yards.
While he dominated on the ground, Steele made his first contribution of the game through the air. Ball State’s first play from scrimmage was a trick play in which Steele caught a pass from wide receiver Jayshon Jackson for a gain of 26 yards.
It was a quiet first half on the ground for Steele, as he carried the ball just twice for nine yards, he exploded in the second half when Ball State needed him the most.
Steele started to hit his stride once he began to get more touches, starting on the Cardinals’ second drive in the third quarter. On his first carry of the half, Steele made multiple Eagles defenders for a 27-yard gain, his longest of the game. He followed this up with a 16-yard rush on the next play, on a drive that saw him run the ball four times for 53 yards.
With the Eastern Michigan passing attack keeping them constantly within one or two scores, Ball State being able to run the ball and eat up time helped them seal the win. Steele took over the fourth quarter, with 13 of his 18 carries coming in the final 15 minutes.
After Eastern Michigan cut the Ball State lead to 31-24 with just under 11 minutes remaining, Steele took over, spearheading a drive that lasted just over six minutes and ended in a touchdown, effectively sealing the game. On that drive he ran the ball six times for 52 yards, and finished off the drive with a seven yard touchdown to put the Cardinals up by two scores.
“I like to try and run up and down the field, you know, try not to bounce it side to side,” Steele said after the game.
Steele was excellent running the ball up the middle, as the Cardinals established a brand of power football down the stretch that had not been shown by them throughout the season. Giving them the final advantage to win the battle in the fourth quarter.
With this performance, the Cardinals showed how dangerous they can be when their running game is in rhythm.
Against Eastern Michigan, Steele became Ball State’s first 100-yard rusher since Tye Evans had 101 yards against Toledo last season. Steele’s 138 yards were also the most since Caleb Huntley had 204 yards against Eastern Michigan last year, in a game that Ball State won by the same score of 38-31.
Steele and the Cardinals will look to keep their ground game rolling on homecoming next Saturday as Ball State returns home to face Miami (OH).