For the first time since 1996, Ball State is the champion of the Mid-American Conference.
Ball State was a two-touchdown underdog against undefeated Buffalo on Friday night, but Mike Neu’s team was able to pull off the 38-28 upset in Detroit.
The keys to Ball State’s historic victory were a 21-0 scoring run to close out the first half and its ability to put the clamps on Jarret Patterson, Buffalo’s star running back.
Buffalo had a 21-14 lead midway though the second quarter, but the Cardinals would score on back-to-back possessions via Drew Plitt touchdown passes. The second was a deep ball to a wide open Jalen McGaughy to give Ball State its first lead, a 28-21 advantage with 1:30 left in the first half.
That lead was about to grow.
On the third play of the ensuing drive, linebacker Jimmy Daw came crashing off the edge and stripped Buffalo quarterback Kyle Vantrease. The ball bounced right to Ball State’s Christian Albright, who scooped it up and sprinted 34 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 35-21 lead at halftime.
That lead proved to be too much to overcome. The first half was loose and full of big plays and points. The second half was the opposite.
Patterson, who entered the game averaging more than 200 yards per game and more than eight yards per carry, was limited to just 47 yards on 18 carries. Meanwhile, Buffalo had two turnovers, had a short field goal blocked and turned it over on downs three times in the second half.
Two of those turnovers on downs came in the fourth quarter. One was a stop by the Ball State defense in the red zone when Buffalo trailed by 10 points with 8:31 to play. The second came at the 2:52 mark on a fourth-and-1 run near midfield. It was the play that essentially sealed the MAC championship for Ball State.
While Ball State had won the MAC five times in its history, it had never won a MAC title game until Friday night. The program’s only other appearance in the title game came back in 2008, also against Buffalo. It was a 42-24 win for the Bulls on that day.
This time, though, it was Ball State’s turn to celebrate.
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