On a cold Tuesday night, ineligible for a bowl game and playing in front of a crowd of only 5,503, Ball State Football played with its heart on its sleeve in a thrilling 42-41 overtime win over Western Michigan.
“This was the best way we could go out for our seniors,” head coach Mike Neu said. “No matter what you do in your football career, you always remember your last one. Our guys challenged them to play with pride and how lucky they are to play the game.”
Coming into the matchup, the Cardinals only had themselves and their teammates to play for. The Cardinals were coming off a third straight loss to Toledo in a 45-13 thrashing that put them out of the bowl conversation. The Cardinals were also 9.5-point underdogs to the Broncos.
At halftime, the tides began to turn as the Cardinals went into the locker room with a 21-17 lead and a 54.7 percent win probability, according to ESPN. Things were looking up for the Cardinals after stopping the Broncos at the 1-yard line in the middle of the fourth quarter holding a 28-20 lead. However, after a pass by redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Plitt was picked off and led to a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game, the momentum swung in favor of the Broncos.
But the Cardinals kept fighting. A back-and-forth game would head to overtime. A 2-yard pass from Plitt to redshirt junior tight end Kyle Schrank and an extra point from senior kicker Morgan Hagee would give the Cardinals the lead. The Broncos would find the end zone, but failed on a two-point conversation to allow the Cardinals to squeak by with the one-point victory.
Alongside the thrilling win, 10 Cardinals played their final game at Scheumann Stadium as it was senior night. For Hagee, he was sitting on the brink of the record books, and he barely knew it.
“I wasn’t aware of it until I was in the hotel earlier,” Hagee said. “I read an article Ball State Sports put out, and I had just stumbled upon it. I didn’t know about it till right before the game.”
With an extra point attempt in the late second quarter, Hagee passed Ian McGarvey for most extra points made in a career with 123. Hagee would knock in six extra points on the night to lift his career total to 127.
“It means a lot to be in the record book and have my name up there with some of the greats,” Hagee said. “Ian McGarvey is a close family friend of mine as my dad was his kicking coach for a long time. I saw him go from high school to Ball State and see him set that record.”
Along with Hagee’s record-breaking finish, the win was the Cardinals' first victory over the Broncos since 2013. Since then, the Cardinals have been outscored by the Broncos, 203-68. The Cardinals' last overtime victory was over the Broncos in 2012, 30-24.
“This was an amazing atmosphere for my final game,” Hagee said. “The way the game went, and it was even more special to beat Western, especially from last year where they stomped us. To come back and do that to them felt so good for everyone on the team.”
With the Cardinals season coming to a close and having one final contest against Miami of Ohio, the team lived in the moment on that cold, dark Tuesday night. Belting the Ball State fight song for the first time in a month.
“If you could’ve been in the locker room and hear the emotion when we sang the fight song together, that’s special,” Neu said. “All the hard work, blood, sweat, tears, training camps, 6 a.m. workouts and you get to sing the fight song, that’s special to me. When you win and get a chance in that locker room together, you get on a knee and pray, you get up and start singing that fight song. That says everything I need to know that these guys love and care about each other.”