Coming in at 2-8, Ball State didn’t have that much to play for on paper.

But football isn’t played on paper.

Despite falling to Buffalo 40-24 on Thursday night, Ball State fought and made the contest competitive for all four quarters.

“Proud of the way our guys battled,” head coach Mike Neu said. “We did some good things [Thursday night].”

The contest quickly looked out of reach as the Bulls jumped to 23-3 lead in the second quarter, but the Cardinals responded with a score before halftime to bring the contest back to a two score game.

And even when Buffalo took a 37-17 lead late in the third quarter, Ball State wasn’t done. Senior quarterback Jack Milas led a long drive, capped by a 47-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Justin Hall to bring his team back within striking distance.

It was Milas’ best night of the season, passing for a pair of touchdowns when he came in to replace freshman starting quarterback Drew Plitt after he threw an interception in the first quarter.

Those touchdown passes were the first of 2017 for Milas, who finished 13/26 for 127 yards. Milas said the touchdown pass in the second quarter was long time coming.

“Throwing the touchdown pass was just a relief,” Milas said. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to go 0-for-7 [on touchdowns-to-interceptions].' To throw a touchdown, it was nice to see.”

Ball State’s offensive line also only allowed two sacks and provided space for the rushing game all night, allowing the offense to put up its most points in a game in two months.

“They played really well, the run game was great,” Milas said. “Pass game was good too, and it’s been tough for them all year.”

The Cardinals were also listed as 19.5-point underdogs on Thursday, and the fight led to them beating the spread for the first time in conference play this season.

Being competitive is also a big step up for Ball State, who dropped every other MAC contest this season by at least 28 points. Thursday, Ball State was able to keep things within two scores for much of the contest and had several chances in the fourth quarter to make it a one score game late.

Freshman running back Caleb Huntley also notched his best performance of the season on the ground with 141 yards, and senior defensive end Anthony Winbush recorded his 25th sack to tie the all-time Ball State career record.

“I feel like we had a great team fight tonight on all ends of the ball,” Winbush said. “I felt like nobody gave up. We’re playing for pride right now but everyone gave it 100 percent effort even though we did mess up sometimes, we would bounce back. Hopefully next week we can finish.”

Ball State concludes the 2017 season when it hosts Miami on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Contact Sam Barloga with comments at sabarloga@bsu.edu.