DN DECADE: Perfection to pain

Ball State's dream season ends with heartache

As the clock ticked off the final seconds of the regular season, Ball State University students began to come down from the stands on the east side of Scheumann Stadium as they prepared to rush the field.

Nate Davis took one final knee and it was all over. The record-setting student crowd released as one, hopping the short fence separating them from the No. 15 team in the country.

What would have been impossible to imagine at the start of the decade, or even two years before, was completed. Ball State was 12-0, headed to the Mid-American Conference Championship Game and in the national conversation for a BCS bowl game.

The football program had come a long way from the 21-game losing streak they opened the decade with. Coach Brady Hoke made his team nationally relevant and respected, rising to No. 12 in the country after the win.

"I thought about when we played Bowling Green [State University] my last game of my first year here," Hoke said after the game. "There was about 2,000 people here."

In the next week and a half, Hoke would be named MAC Coach of the Year and Davis the conference's Offensive Player of the Year. There would be talk of a matchup with Boise State University in the Humanitarian Bowl and a contract extension for Hoke.

But the dream of a true undefeated season was shattered in Detroit by the University at Buffalo.

The storyline is familiar to every Cardinals' fan. MiQuale Lewis appeared to score a touchdown, but was ruled out of bounds at the one. Davis tried to scramble for a touchdown two plays later, but was hit and fumbled. Buffalo recovered the ball and returned it for a touchdown. The scene was repeated on the very next drive, as another Davis fumble turned into a Bulls' touchdown.

After the game, Hoke said the Cardinals would recover.

"Whenever you invest a lot, it hurts," he said. "That's the way football is. That's the way life is. They've done a lot for Ball State, for this program. They'll learn from this. There's adversity all over. It happens in life, and they'll bounce back from this."

But Ball State's train was derailed, the magic gone. Soon, its coach was as well.

On Dec. 15, Hoke resigned as Ball State's coach and became San Diego State University's head man. Ball State moved quickly, naming offensive coordinator Stan Parrish head coach.

Parrish said he took the job because the players needed him.

"Things happened very quickly," Parrish said. "I had options there, but in the end I feel even stronger about the decision now."

Parrish coached Ball State in the GMAC Bowl, but the Cardinals were washed away by Tulsa University's powerful offense.

Soon after the loss, Davis announced he would forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft, shutting the book on a tumultuous month and a whirlwind season.

Davis was picked in the fifth round by the San Francisco 49ers, while his former team struggled to a 2-10 record in Parrish's first year. Even though the Cardinals didn't meet expectations this year, fond memories of the 2008 team are plentiful.

"The epic battle at Central Michigan in the snow was my favorite memory," Parrish said. "To be the king, we had to knock them off the throne."

The 2008 team is now the standard all future Cardinals' teams will be measured against. To be the best in Ball State history, they will have to knock that team off the throne.


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