“Steele’s a great player. We knew that going in,” Martin said. “You have to tackle him low. You can’t tackle him high. Once he gets clear, it’s over. He’s too strong, he’s too fast.
“Their defense dominated the whole game,” Martin added. “But our defense for the first time all year got frustrated. This was probably the one time all year where we felt like we weren’t in a great place defensively. It was just frustrating. I know part of it was that it could take us out of any chance for a bowl game.”
Graham Nicholson connected on 1-of-2 field goals for Miami in the first half, missing one from 45 yards and making the other from 30 yards that cut the Ball State lead to 14-3 with 1:41 left in the second quarter.
The Cardinals (5-7, 3-5 MAC) extended their lead to 17-3 on Ben VonGunten’s 44-yard field goal with 10:03 left in third quarter. But Nicholson answered with a 25-yard field goal on Miami’s next possession, cutting the Ball State lead to 17-6 with 5:24 left in third quarter.
Smith scrambled for an 18-yard touchdown, but the 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete, and the RedHawks cut Ball State’s lead to 17-12 with 6:12 left to play.
Two possessions later, Smith found Marshall on the game-clinching 34-yard TD connection.
“I look up at the score and it’s 18-17, and everyone is jumping around,” Martin said. “I was thinking, ‘Wow. Not sure I was expecting that.’ Then I was like, ‘Guys, we need a stop.’”
Ugwu’s interception with 53 seconds left to play helped clinch Miami’s bowl invite.
Smith threw for 224 yards and rushed for 103, while Mac Hippenhammer caught six passes for 70 yards for the RedHawks.
Steele finished with 182 yards on 26 carries and the two scores for Ball State.