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Mutka: Ball State football putting IU, Purdue on back burner

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Updated: January 24, 2014 6:32AM



While Indiana and Purdue continue to languish in never-never land, not an easy accomplishment given the 70 bowl-eligibles who came out of the woodwork, Ball State will be making its second straight postseason appearance.

The Cardinals have piled up 19 victories in the last two years, but are seeking their first bowl victory in seven tries. Offensive tackle Matthew Page and punter Kyle Schmidt would like to correct that oversight.

“It would be a great way to finish my college career,” said Page, who will start his second straight bowl game (“GoDaddy”) against Arkansas State on Jan. 5. “We want to make history, to leave our benchmark on the program. It would mean a lot to me.”

The fifth-year senior from East Chicago, who started every game in a 10-2 season, wants to leave something for Ball State to remember him by. Home for the holidays, the Cardinals return to campus for workouts on Dec. 27, then leave for Mobile, Alabama on New Year’s Eve.

Arkansas State, which recently lost its head coach Bryan Harsin to Boise State, will be on the welcoming committee. The Red Wolves are now guided by Blake Anderson. Ball State’s Rich Skrosky, who left to become Elon’s coach, and Anderson served as offensive coordinators during the regular season.

Page expects the Cardinals to follow his lead. Hopefully, they learned their lesson from a 38-17 loss to Central Florida in the Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl last year.

“The first time some of us might not have taken the experience seriously,” said Page, who has been working out at his high school during the break.

Coming off that loss, the Cardinals re-dedicated themselves.

This time were treating it like a business trip,” Page said.

An early loss to North Texas, which will meet UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, nearly derailed the Cardinals, but they rallied to win their next seven before bowing at Northern Illinois. Game three was a wakeup call for Page.

“You never like to lose, but it can help you focus,” he said. “It pointed us in the right direction.”

What he snatched from the jaws of defeat was a higher work ethic. Page became a better practice player, which coaches tell you, is where football games are won.

Along the way Page took particular satisfaction from BSU’s second straight victory over Toledo, which he once came perilously close to attending.

Five years ago he committed to the Rockets, but switched when Ball State waved a scholarship in his direct. Three letters later, he has no regrets. Being successful helps.

Putting his 6-foot-6, 300-pound frame to good use, he helped Ball State roll up 333 passing yards and 40.1 points a game. Quarterback Keith Wenning took advantage of Page’s protective custody and able receivers Willie Snead (97 catches, 1,429 yards) and Jordan Williams (68 carries for 1,016 yards) to toss 34 touchdown passes against just six interceptions.

Going “GoDaddy” means much more to Schmidt, who was a freshman walk-on a year ago. He was redshirted after choosing Ball State over walking on at Indiana or Indiana State. The former Chesterton kicker is comfortable with his decision and his rookie year.

Fifteen of his 42 punts landed inside the 20-yard line and he averaged 41 yards. Schmidt was named the Mid-American Conference special teams player of the week for his efforts against Kent State. He also averaged 58.7 yards on 18 kickoffs.

Schmidt forced seven fair catches, but understands the need to improve his hang-time on punts. Handling both assignments, seldom seen in Division I, calls for different muscles and techniques, but he handled both jobs and kicked field goals before migrating to Ball State.

“It’s a little tough to transition back and forth, but I was okay with it,” said Schmidt, who bided his time last year as heir apparent to Scott Kovanda.

“He was a really good punter and got a shot with the Bengals before getting cut,” Schmidt said.

Beating Toledo was a big win, but the Cardinals nearly topped that with a shocker against Northern Illinois, which was unbeaten at the time but needed three touchdowns in the final six minutes to break a 27-27 stalemate.

After the season Schmidt could be rewarded with a scholarship, but that’s always iffy where kickers are concerned. Meanwhile, he is barely concealing his excitement over being Alabama-bound on Dec. 31.

There, it will be thumbs down to New Year’s Eve excesses.

“We won’t be celebrating,” he said, “but there’ll be a lot of activities during the week and some bonding between the teams.”

Footnotes: After the bowl Schmidt plans to return to Northwest Indiana for the annual Gary Old Timers banquet. His grandfather, Len Schmidt, who coached football at Calumet and served as Merrillville athletic director, is being honored.

“Can’t miss that,” he said.

Page graduated on Dec. 14, but his plate remains full. Other than preparing for the bowl, he is filling out job applications and considering post-graduate work. His objective is a master’s in public relations or marketing, but that could take a back seat to playing in the NFL.

“I’m going to give it a shot,” said Page, who would follow former East Chicago teammate Kawaan Short, a former Purdue defensive tackle who hooked up with the Carolina Panthers.

Other Northwest Indiana grads on Ball State’s roster are running back Denzel Pierce (Merrillville), who transferred from St. Francis, and freshman defensive tackle Peter Parks (Crown Point).



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