One thing is for sure — Ball State kept things interesting against Buffalo Thursday night.
Down 20 points in the fourth quarter, redshirt senior quarterback Jack Milas rolled to the left and found freshman wide receiver Justin Hall for a 47-yard touchdown pass, marking the Cardinals' longest completion of the season.
On the next drive, the defense responded with a three-and-out, capped off by a sack from redshirt senior Anthony Winbush, marking his 25th in a Cardinal uniform and tying the program’s all-time career record.
“My eyes just lit up, I looked to the sideline, saw my parents cheering for me,” Winbush said. “I saw my teammates, the ones helping me since I’ve been here and stuff … It was definitely a great moment for me to end on that note because that’s what I’ve been trying to strive for the whole time I’ve been here.”
Following the play, defensive line coach Keith McKenzie found Winbush and told him, “It took you too long to do that.”
After driving 35 yards downfield, however, Ball State (2-9, 0-7 MAC) couldn’t convert on fourth down, giving the ball to Buffalo (5-6, 3-4 MAC) who went on to win its first game at Scheumann Stadium, 40-24.
“Yeah, it’s tough right now, 10 games into the 2017 season the script isn’t like any of us want it to be or any of us thought it would be,” head coach Mike Neu said. “I am proud, more than anything else, of the positive attitude that [the] guys have maintained every single day.”
Down 16 points with three minutes remaining in the game, Ball State had one last chance to mount a comeback. After three unsuccessful plays and a sack on Milas on fourth down, however, the game was all but over.
Still, it was the first time Ball State was competitive against a Mid-American Conference opponent this season, something that didn’t go unnoticed by the Cardinals.
“It felt good to be competitive, you know, we haven’t been competitive in the last few games,” Milas said. “It just felt good to be in something and have a lot of energy on the sidelines and, you know, it’s a testament to the guys on the team that we keep fighting.”
Milas threw his first touchdown pass of the season late in the second quarter, finding wide-open freshman Nolan Givan on an 11-yard pass. Milas finished with two touchdowns on 13-of-26 completions and 127 yards.
Ball State’s run game shined at times tonight as well, with freshman Caleb Huntley having the best game of his career running for 141 yards on 26 rushes. Sophomore running back Malik Dunner also finished with 63 yards on four carries following a 50-yard burst midway through the third quarter.
Still, the script was the same for Ball State’s defense, who continues to struggle to stop big passing plays against opponents.
Sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson finished with 350 yards and four touchdowns, all to the conference’s best receiver Anthony Johnson, who finished with 153 receiving yards.
“Tyree Jackson is certainly not afraid to throw some 50-50 balls, knowing that he trusts his guys are going to come down with it,” Neu said.
Three of Buffalo’s receivers had receptions of 57, 56 and 33 yards during the game.
With a short turnaround, Ball State returns to Scheumann Stadium Nov. 21 against Miami for the final game of the season.
Contact men's basketball reporter Robby General at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rgeneraljr.