BY MASON PLUMMER | Lead Writer | Ball State Sports Link
At the beginning of the season, Ball State set out on a conquest to make it to Detroit and play for the MAC Championship.
The mission started out rocky with an opening loss at Miami in Week 1, but Ball State never gave up and believed in its mantra, Detroit or Bust.
Ball State head coach Mike Neu looked himself in the mirror after that game and made the changes necessary to lead his Cardinals to a winning season and reaching the end goal of making it to Detroit.
His team ended up winning its next four games, putting its record at 4-1 and equal to that of in-conference foe Western Michigan with the MAC West title on the line.
It was an absolute dogfight throughout the game with plenty of ups and downs for both sides, but Ball State came out on top 30-27 in what was one of the most memorable games in MAC history.
Ball State clinched the MAC West Division title with its fifth straight victory and will play in the MAC Championship game Friday, Dec. 18 against East champ Buffalo.
The conference announced the Cardinals and Bulls will also represent the MAC in bowl games.
The game ended up coming down to the very last snap, which was also Western’s last snap of the season. Rather than throwing up a ‘Hail Mary’, Western quarterback Kaleb Eleby elected to try out his own version of the ‘Music City Miracle’ with pitches and laterals all over the field.
When it was all said and done — and the dust settled, the Cardinals came out on top and booked its trip to Detroit.
“I have a lot of emotions right now, I am just so proud of this team and these players,” Neu said. “That win was not with style points, but the most important thing is that we got the win.”
The first half was not pretty for Ball State, as it went into the halftime break down 20-13 with Western Michigan dominating up to that point.
The Broncos nearly doubled Ball State in time of possession and could have gone into the break leading by much more than seven, but Neu knew he had to keep his team in the game.
“We got ourselves behind early in the game, but I give so much credit to my team,” Neu said. “Nobody on our sidelines panicked when we were down. We hung together and kept battling and fighting. They earned a ticket to Detroit. Our ultimate goal is not to win the MAC West. Our ultimate goal is to win the MAC Championship.”
The Cardinals came out in the second half looking like a different team — with motivation and a collective chip on the shoulder. Ball State was not going to go down easily.
The third quarter was back and forth with big hits all around, leading into the fourth quarter where the Ball State offense took off and took over.
Western Michigan went into the fourth quarter up 27-13 and were driving for a score that would have iced the game, until grad transfer Chris Agyemang came up with a huge interception for the Ball State defense.
“I love to see my big guys eat, they deserve it,” Ball State linebacker Jaylin Thomas said of Agyemang’s interception. “They do not get too much spotlight but that was a huge play for us. I didn’t know he had hands like that! Hopefully he gets another one next week.”
The interception led to a short field for the Ball State offense and a touchdown pass from Drew Plitt to Yo’Heinz Tyler to put the Cardinals in striking distance with 13:35 left in the game.
The defense quickly forced a three-and-out, giving Plitt and the offense the ball yet again.
This time, he only needed one play to score.
Plitt found star receiver Justin Hall on a bubble screen and he took it to the house, 55 yards for a Ball State touchdown which tied the game at 20.
Hall evaded the entire Bronco defense on his way into the end zone, topping off his record-setting Senior Day.
Similar to how he scored in just one play, Hall had one word for what he saw in the Western defense that he thought he could exploit.
When the final whistle blew, Hall tallied 175 yards on 10 receptions and two scores. With his performance Saturday, the Georgia native became the all-time receptions leader for Ball State, passing KeVonn MaBon’s record of 244.
The nation’s active leader in career receptions, Hall extended his FBS-leading receptions streak to 42 straight games (every game of his career)
“It’s a good feeling,” Hall said of becoming Ball State’s all-time receptions leader. “I never have been an accolade guy, it’s a great accomplishment but the job isn’t over yet. Next week, after we win the MAC Championship, we can talk about accolades.”
Ball State was once again without star running back Caleb Huntley due to a nagging rib injury, but Will Jones and Tye Evans filled his role admirably, combining for 24 carries and gaining 96 yards.
Without Huntley, Plitt was once again delivered going 22-of-33 for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Plitt surpassed 6,000 career passing yards, moving into fifth on that all-time list at BSU.
Defensively, Ball State made big plays when it counted the most. A key fumble recovery in the first half on a bad snap and the aforementioned Agyemang interception led to the Cardinals scoring 14 points from those turnovers.
Jaylin Thomas (16) and Bryce Cosby (14) led Ball State in tackles, while AJ Uzodinma added three clutch pass breakups.
“My hat is off to the seniors for staying in there during those tough years, and we all saw the same thing in each other and we knew that we could have a moment like this,” Neu said. “It’s a great accomplishment right now, but it’s not our ultimate goal.”
The MAC Championship game will kick off Friday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN from Ford Field.