MUNCIE – You had to know that Senior Night for Ball State backup quarterback Kelly Page would end in tears being shed. After all, he was going to take the field at Scheumann Stadium for the final time, but after the coin toss, he was more than likely to be relegated to the sidelines for the remainder of the night.
It's not really how the career of the 12th-rated prep quarterback in the country is supposed to end, so as Page fought back tears Wednesday after the Cardinals' game with Ohio, it really wasn't shocking.
“I thought about (Senior Night) a lot actually,” Page said. “It went through my head that we're going to smack these guys and maybe I'd get some reps in the end. But nothing, nothing ever like this.”
No, Page, nor the more than 10,000 fans in attendance ever dreamt that it would be the fifth-year senior from Texas who would come off the bench for the first time all season and lead Ball State (8-3, 5-2 Mid-American Conference) to a resounding 52-27 beating of the Bobcats (8-3, 4-3).
Those tears that Page fought back were emotions flowing as he talked about his biggest fan, his mother (Kim Page), and the support that she's showed him through thin and thinner.
“Y'all can't do that,” Page said when asked to speak about his mother. “My mother is my backbone. She's had my back in everything that I've ever done. I saw her in the stands and I told her 'Go down there; I have to give you a hug.' That moment was something that I'll never forget.”
Page came to Muncie after turning down an offer from Oregon (yes, that Oregon) and he was heralded as the Golden Child, only to be beaten out two-plus years later by a lesser-regarded recruit (Keith Wenning), who is in the midst of making a mockery of the Cardinal record book.
Page threw only seven passes as a junior, and he hadn't taken an offensive snap this fall until Wednesday.
But instead of sulking, causing disruptions, or even considering transferring, Page became great friends with the guy who took his glory, even closer with the coaches who wouldn't play him, and he pushed himself to his physical and mental limits in order to be great – just in case he ever needed to be.
Ball State needed him to be great Wednesday. And he was.
Cardinals coach Pete Lembo hadn't given Page a second glance all season. However, on Wednesday when Wenning strained his Achilles tendon on a second-quarter reception of all things, the Cardinals called on Page not just to play, but to play well against a conference power.
“When I'm thinking about what just happened,” Lembo said, “I'm just taken aback by what an amazing story this is. What you just saw was pretty special.”
When Wenning went down after landing awkwardly on a catch from receiver Jamill Smith, Ball State was clinging to a 17-14 lead. Page was called upon and he delivered. Immediately.
He ran for a 5-yard touchdown on his first play from scrimmage and later threw for two more scores. He finished the night having completed five of seven passes for 41 yards, while rushing for another 34. More importantly, he led his team to 35 points in just over a half of football, as the Cardinals strengthened their bowl resume with yet another strong performance in front of bowl representatives (Little Caesar's Bowl) and a national television (ESPNU) audience. (Ball State upset 25th-ranked Toledo on ESPN2 last week.)
“Kelly ran the offense and he ran it well,” Lembo said. “It was a pretty big win guys, a pretty big win. So let's not make any Christmas plans.”