BY DONNIE HARMON | Ball State Sports Link
The Ball State football team has checked one more box in a season that has proven to be one of the best in school history.
While the motto throughout the season has been “Detroit or Bust,” the Cardinals did not disappoint once they got to Detroit last week, as they took down an undefeated No. 23 Buffalo Bulls team by a score of 38-28 to capture their first Mid American Conference title since 1996, and their sixth MAC Championship overall.
In 2008, Buffalo upset an undefeated, nationally ranked Ball State team in the MAC Championship. Ball State was able to flip the script this time around, thanks in large part to the contributions of many people on the offense, and quarterback Drew Plitt especially, who was at the center of the Ball State aerial attack.
The senior from Loveland, Ohio contributed all four of Ball State’s offensive touchdowns, with three through the air and one on the ground, to go along with 273 yards on 20 for 32 passing.
“I’m speechless,” Plitt said Friday night. “Back in 2016, we said we would be the ones to change the program. There were some tough times. We stuck through it and here we are now – champions.”
While the offense was quiet in the second half, in the first Plitt was able to keep pace, and then some, with a Buffalo offense that averaged 52 points per game entering the game, best in the country.
After the game, Plitt was named the Most Valuable Offensive Player of the MAC Championship game. The performance in Detroit bring his total to 15 TDs over the past four games.
It was also the third time in the past four games Plitt had both a passing and rushing touchdown.With 263 passing yards, Plitt surpassed his head coach Mike Neu for fourth place on the Cardinals’ career list with 6,293.
The success started early for Plitt and the Cardinals offense. After a quick Buffalo touchdown to start the game, it was evident that Ball State was going to have to keep pace early.
Plitt had an answer, as he led the offense down the field 75 yards, going 3 for 3 for 36 yards, all to Yo’Heinz Tyler, including a 10 yard touchdown on a jump ball that extended Tyler’s games with a touchdown streak to 6.
After a blocked Buffalo field goal injected some life into Ball State and kept them within 7, Plitt led the team on their second big drive of the game. Starting at their own 10 yard line, Plitt marched the team down the field in 10 plays, and capped off the 90 yard drive with a quarterback sneak touchdown. That drive featured completions of 17, 23 and 25 yards.
After a quick Buffalo touchdown put the Bulls back up by a score, Ball State quickly answered with a quick, 6-play, 75 yard drive that was capped off by a Plitt passing touchdown to Justin Hall.
While Plitt and the Ball State offense had been able to keep pace at that point, it was clear that they would need to get some defensive stops to separate themselves as MAC champions. Once they forced their first punt, Plitt and the rest of the Cardinals went to work.
After a defender fell down, Plitt hit Jalen McGaughy in stride on a deep ball for a 56 yard touchdown, McGaughy’s 3rd touchdown on 4 receptions this year, as the redshirt-freshman receiver looks to be an integral part of the Cardinal’s offense for years ahead.
That touchdown put Ball State in front for the first time during the game. They ended up leading for the rest of the game.
With a scoop and score giving Ball State a 35-21 at half, it began to look much more likely that coach Mike Neu and the Cardinals would be taking the trophy home.
With the defense playing an excellent second half, it meant that the opening drive field goal being the only points of the second half for Ball State was enough for them to win 38 to 28, taking home the trophy.
Despite a slower second half, Plitt still shined in the biggest game of his career, leading a dominant first half offensive performance that put Ball State in a position to win.
This week, Ball State accepted an invitation to the Arizona Bowl. The Cardinals will face Mountain West Conference champion San Jose State at Noon MT (2 p.m. ET) Thursday, Dec. 31 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson. The game will be televised by CBS.
Ball State enters the game riding a six-game winning streak. A seventh straight win would mean the program’s first bowl victory.