The Pride of Mid-America performed “Thnks fr th Mmrs” at halftime Friday. It was the band’s final performance of the year. It was fitting, not only for the band members, but for Ball State Football’s seniors as well.
“When you get prepared for senior day and it happens to be your last game, that’s kind of a double whammy,” head coach Mike Neu said. “It’s hard not to get emotional. We’ve had some emotional 48 hours here. There’s a last of everything … I do thank them for the memories, and I will forever be indebted. When we win a championship and hold up a trophy, these men will be a huge part of that.”
During the playing of the Fall Out Boy hit, the Cardinals (5-7, 4-4 MAC) were in the locker room, facing a 27-14 deficit to Mid-American Conference East Division Champion Miami (Ohio) (7-5, 6-2 MAC). When they ran back onto the field, a switch had been flipped.
“I was like, ‘I don’t care about X’s and O’s.’ I was like, ‘Dude, just go out there and play and have fun,’” senior defensive tackle Chris Crumb said. “You start forgetting about all that crap and you start playing because you want to play … It’s night and day different when people stop thinking and just enjoy where they’re at.”
The Cardinals went on to score 27 unanswered points and only allow one first down in the second half, leading to a 41-27 victory. This was Ball State’s second straight win on senior day and the first time the Red Bird Rivalry Trophy has resided in Muncie in its three-year existence.
“It’s as good of a way it could possibly end for us today,” Neu said. “I really could look at one [senior] after the other and say, ‘That’s how you do things.’ They have set, quite honestly, the foundation. They have set the standard for how all young men should go about their business.”
The seniors couldn’t have done it without some help from their underclassmen, though.
Midway through the third quarter, with the Cardinals still in a 13-point hole, redshirt senior receiver Riley Miller limped off the field after securing a 9-yard catch for a first down. Four plays later, junior receiver Justin Hall came out of the game after sustaining a hit to the head.
That’s when sophomore receiver Yo’Heinz Tyler came in.
“[Miller] was just like, ‘Go get it. Go get ’em,’” Tyler said. “It was my turn, so he was like, ‘Go get ’em, and do what you do best.’”
The very next play after Hall came out, Tyler caught a ball inside the 5-yard line and drug a defender with him as he extended his arms past the goal line for a 40-yard touchdown.
“Coach always says, ‘When someone goes down, be available because your turn is going to come immediately,’” Tyler said. “When I went in, I was ready and prepared.”
That reduced the Cardinals’ deficit to just seven points. After junior running back Caleb Huntley tied the game at 27 with his second of three touchdowns on the first play of the fourth quarter, it was clear momentum was squarely on Ball State’s side.
On the RedHawks’ next offensive play, sophomore cornerback A.J. Uzodinma came away with an interception right in front of the Cardinal sideline. While that turnover didn’t lead to any points for the Cardinals, the next one did.
Players on Ball State’s sideline saw a near mirror image on the RedHawks’ next possession, as Uzodinma once again picked off a pass right in front of them.
“It was probably one of the hypest plays I’ve had,” Uzodinma said. “The first one was hype. After the second one, it was like everything blacked out.”
The Cardinals subsequently turned that play into another 40-yard touchdown for Tyler. Huntley’s third score of the game gave the Cardinals a 14-point cushion with just over seven minutes to play. That, Crumb said, is when everything started to come into picture.
“I’m going to miss that feeling,” Crumb said. “Just the adrenaline rush and being able to do that with everybody around you and supporting you — that’s something you can’t get anywhere else.”
The win gave Neu his best season at the helm of the program. This week, Athletic Director Beth Goetz announced Neu would be receiving an extension.
Ball State closed the book on its season Friday, so Neu and the Cardinals will have to go after that coveted MAC Championship in 2020.