Ball State (6-7, 4-4 MAC) ended its season in Montgomery, Alabama Christmas Day with a 51-20 loss against Georgia State (8-5, 6-2 SBC) in the TaxAct Camellia Bowl.
The Cardinals and Panthers failed to score in their initial drives. However, with eight minutes and 59 seconds left in the first quarter, the Cardinals struck first as redshirt fifth-year quarterback Drew Plitt found junior wide receiver Jayshon Jackson for a 56-yard touchdown — the third-longest touchdown play in Camellia Bowl history.
After the score, the Cardinals didn't produce another touchdown until the fourth quarter. The Panthers went on a 17-0 run through the end of the first and second quarter, before sophomore kicker Jacob Lewis put three points on the board for Ball State to make it a one-possession affair before halftime.
In the third quarter, the scoring was predominantly Georgia State, as they put 28 unanswered points on the board, a Camellia Bowl record for a single quarter.
“[It] had to be better all around,” fifth-year safety Bryce Cosby said. “Offense, defense, special teams. I’m not going to pinpoint anything, I think it was collective.”
The Cardinals faced a 35-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, and a 45-yard field goal from senior Georgia State kicker Noel Ruiz extended the Panthers’ lead with nine minutes and three seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“A couple plays went their way,” Plitt said. “Sometimes that's the way it goes. They got one or two big plays that ended up being the difference.”
Plitt scored the game’s last touchdown, pushing through defenders for the one-yard run into the endzone before walking off the field for the final time as a collegiate quarterback.
Plitt joined more than 30 Ball State players who competed in their final collegiate game against Georgia State and head coach Mike Neu expressed his gratitude for what they have done for the program.
“I’ll be forever indebted to them for everything they’ve given to our program,” Neu said. “All the blood, the sweat, the positive attitude, the work ethic. Our young players in the program will benefit from the leadership of those men. I know it’s tough tonight, but the legacy that they’ve left over the years has definitely left our program in a better place. It stings tonight, but once I step back and reflect on the body of work, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Cosby, who began his career at Ball State with three straight losing seasons in 2017-19, reflected on where he was then and how he finished his time as a Cardinal.
“Early on, there were days I wanted to quit,” Cosby said. “If we’re being honest, football wasn’t even fun for me anymore… Championships [and] competing to go to a conference championship was not even in the picture in my first two years. And so, seeing where we're at now, it’s great as a senior [that] I can say I left this place better than I found it.”
Despite ending the season with a 31-point loss, the Cardinals will look to their younger players in the offseason and plan to continuously improve in the future.
“I believe in our young players in the program,” Neu said. “Some of them played this year and did a remarkable job playing probably a little bit faster than they were ready [for] because we had some injuries, and they did a great job. We’ve got a lot more experience than it probably looks like on paper. We brought in a significant class that we just signed and I love the young players in our program. I told them to be ready to go to work and they're all going to be ready to go to work once they get a little bit of a break.”
Ball State begins its 2022 season Sept. 3 against Tennessee in Neyland Stadium.