Tears were shed when Ball State coach Mike Neu told his players this summer that the season had been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When the Mid-American Conference changed course and decided to start a shortened season in November, the Cardinals were given a second chance. They made it the program’s first bowl win in 10 tries.
Antonio Phillips returned early for a touchdown after 53 yards, Drew Plitt scored twice and Ball State defeated the No. 19 shorthanded San Jose State 34-13 on Thursday in the Arizona Bowl.
“We knew we had an opportunity to do something special here,” said Bryce Cosby, Ball State Security. “That says a lot about these people. I can’t even fathom the amount of victims with COVID and all. We had to do everything a little differently and I’m just proud of these guys. “
San Jose State (7-1, # 22 CFP) had to play without its two coordinators and Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, Cade Hall, due to COVID-19 and other issues.
The Cardinals (7: 1) took advantage and quickly went into the offensive after Phillips’ interception with 27: 0 in the first quarter.
The Central American champions got stuck in the second half but had four interceptions to beat opponents for the first time in a row. they defeated at that time no. 23 Buffalo in the MAC title game.
“People ask if this is a Super Bowl game or a Pro Bowl game,” Neu said. “This is a Super Bowl game for us. I’m proud of these guys who play Cardinals Football. “
The Spartans were already understaffed and lost Derrick Deese Jr., the team leader with five touchdown receptions, to a neck injury at the first scrimmage game.
Quarterback Nick Starkel injured his left knee in the second quarter but later returned with braces. He threw for 268 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions.
“Ball State came out and played hard and they are rewarded for it,” said Starkel. “We were confident with the guys we had in this game and I take full responsibility for the interception because when I have the ball in my hands it’s all up to me.”
Both teams arrived rolling into the desert.
The Spartans, who went 1:11 just two years ago, had their best season since 13-0 in 1939. San Jose state won its first Mountain West Championship and had its first winning season since 2012.
The Spartans made it despite having to move for training camp and not being able to play on their home field for most of the season.
Ball State lost its opener to Miami, Ohio, and won six straight to win its first MAC championship since 1996.
The Cardinals started quickly against the understaffed Spartans.
Phillips met on his interception when Starkel had miscommunication with a receiver on the Spartans’ inaugural trip. Ball State rolled on their quick offensive, scoring a goal on 3-yard runs by Will Jones and Tye Evans. Plitt also scored a 1-yard run after the fourth relegation after Nic Jones blocked Elijah Fischer’s boat.
“We came out with a purpose,” said Neu.
San Jose State finally got some momentum after Starkel was injured, but backup Nick Nash threw an intercept in the end zone. Spartan’s kicker Matt Mercurio ended the ugly first half with a badly missed 49-yard field goal attempt.
Plitt’s 48-yard TD pass for Yo’Heinz Tyler made it 33-0 before San Jose State finally scored on Charlie Bostic’s 99-yard kickoff return.
“The best story in Spartan football this year has been our brotherhood and family,” said Spartan’s manager Brent Brennan. “In our process of building this together, and for those who couldn’t be there today, it’s utterly devastating and heartbreaking for them, and everyone is feeling it.”
San Jose State’s offer for an undefeated season began to fade before the game began, and a shaky first quarter left the Spartans in too big a hole.
Ball State started quickly against the understaffed Spartans and drove it to a historic first bowl victory.
Plitt was efficient, throwing 217 yards on a 12-of-19 pass.
He got help from the highly competitive duo of Jones and Donny Marcus.
Jones had 89 yards on 22 runs and the touchdown. Marcus had 69 yards on 10 runs including one 28 yard run.
San Jose State: The Spartans got good news earlier this week when Starkel announced he would be returning for one final college season. The state of San Jose will have to replace several seniors on the offensive, but most defensive starters will be juniors or younger.
Ball State: The Cardinals will have to retool on offensive next season after losing eight senior starters, including Plitt. Ball State will also have to replace several seniors on defense.
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