When Ball State Football started the 2021 season 1-3, head coach Mike Neu said they still refused to lose. He compared it to playing a pick-up basketball game with the mindset of, “You aren’t going to score on me.”
After dropping three consecutive games, the Cardinals ended Army’s undefeated season with a 28-16 win Oct. 2. Ball State followed up with a trip to Western Michigan Oct. 9, where prior to its 45-20 win, they hadn’t defeated the Broncos on their home turf since 2013. Now, the Cardinals are back to an even 3-3 record, and there is no looking back.
“We have all been challenged that way where we have to dig deep,” Neu said. “The credit goes to the players — they were ready to go. They took it personally. We have great leadership from a player standpoint. It was good to hear from those players before the game and at halftime.”
Fifth-year senior safety Bryce Cosby said the Cardinals’ “refuse-to-lose” mindset has resonated with him and his teammates, as they have been in this situation before. After losing its season opener against Miami (Ohio) last season, Ball State won seven straight games, including the Mid-American Conference Championship and the Arizona Bowl.
“[Neu] brought that up last week before the Army game,” Cosby said. “I thought it made sense to everybody on the team. I think everybody can resonate with what he was referring to — it applies to every aspect of life: ‘I’m not failing this test, I am not getting beat on this rep.’ Everyone has been there, and everyone has felt that moment.”
After Ball State’s win against Army, redshirt fifth-year quarterback Drew Plitt said he believes his team can win every game the rest of the season. Over Plitt’s first three seasons, Ball State won just 10 games, so Plitt said he knows this team can respond with their backs against the wall.
“That is just the team we are,” Plitt said. “When it is the underdog mentality or just being against the wall, the only thing that we were able to do is to fight. You talk about fight-or-flight, we are the fighters. We are going to come out every day, and we are going to fight for that win.”
Following the Cardinals’ third straight loss against Toledo Sept. 25, Plitt said he and his teammates had a players’ meeting, came together and established where they were. He said they knew the only direction was up.
“It is a mindset,” Plitt said. “You can do anything you put your mind to — that is what this team believes right now. We go out every day and believe we are going to win that day or win that game. For us, it is just a no-lose situation.”
Neu said Ball State’s 1-3 start tested who they were as a team. He said they answered and responded the right way.
“I love what we are made of,” Neu said. “Obviously, we have been through a lot together as a team and as a program. I love the makeup of our football team. When our backs are against the wall, you find out a lot about the character of the team. You find out a lot about the mental toughness of the football team.”
Cosby echoed Neu, and he said the experience of the Cardinals and what they have been through in the past has gone a long way in getting them back on the right track.
“The resilience of this team, the things we have been through — those things do not go unnoticed,” Cosby said. “We have a lot of experience on this team. We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football. Moments like these — where we are the underdog — nobody blinked. We stayed true to our process. I think it speaks to the resilience, toughness and experience of the guys on this team.”