It wasn't the season Ball State (6-6, 4-4 MAC) envisioned, but after a 1-3 start, head coach Mike Neu reminded the Cardinals of one message.
“Tough times never last, tough people do,” Neu said.
Ball State defeated Buffalo (4-8, 2-6 MAC) 20-3 Nov. 23. The victory marks the second consecutive season Ball State is bowl eligible, as the Cardinals won five of their last eight games to get to the required six wins.
“We knew that we didn't start as strong as we could have,” redshirt fifth-year quarterback Drew Plitt said. “But we had a conversation with the players in here, we saw an opportunity to do something special out on the field [and] off the field. I think we just carried that mentality through it all, and obviously things didn't go our way the entire time, but staying through it all and being able to come bowl eligible is just a huge accomplishment for this team.”
The Cardinals totaled four defensive turnovers, with interceptions from fifth-year safety Bryce Cosby, redshirt fifth-year inside linebacker Jaylin Thomas, graduate student defensive back J.T. Wahee and senior safety Malcom Lee. In his last game in Scheumann Stadium, Thomas recorded a team-high 14 tackles and thought the defensive performance was a bigger reflection of Ball State’s values.
“It just speaks volumes to how much we truly love each other, and how much the way we play reflects the love we have for each other,” Thomas said.
With three minutes and 15 seconds remaining in the first quarter, fifth-year wide receiver Hassan Littles blocked a Buffalo punt, and redshirt freshman Brandon Berger recovered it. The Cardinals downed multiple punts inside the one-yard line throughout the rest of the game.
“I feel like Coach Dougherty is the best special teams coordinator out there, nobody can convince me otherwise,” Cosby said. “I’m in his meetings everyday, he just does a great job of just getting guys to buy in. It's hard getting, especially younger guys, to buy in on the special teams, considering they're coming from a star role. With Nathan [Snyder], we all know what he's capable of. We see him hit punts like those every day in practice, and for him to kick it all the way to inside the five, that's hard for any offense in college football to drive 95 yards.”
Plitt completed 19-of-31 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown. Junior wide receiver Jayshon Jackson had 103 yards on nine receptions, including a seven-yard touchdown. Plitt also scored on a one-yard rush on fourth and goal with four minutes and 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
Redshirt fifth-year wide receiver Justin Hall returned from injury and caught two receptions for seven yards. Hall extended his streak of most consecutive games with a reception to 54.
Buffalo was paced by junior quarterback Matt Myers, who threw for 188 yards on 18-of-39 passing. Myers led the Bulls in rushing with 94 yards on 16 carries.
Ball State will receive its bowl destination Dec. 5 once the conference championship games conclude.