Cardinals win sixth MAC Championship, defeats Bulls

By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher

The Ball State Cardinals had one of their best seasons in program history. The Cardinals defeated the No. 23 Buffalo Bulls on Friday night to win the Rocket Mortgage Mid American Conference Championship game at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.

This is the Cardinals first Championship since the 1996 season. In addition, the football team now has six MAC Championships since 1976.

Ball State Cardinals players celebrate their win with the MAC Championship trophy after defeating the Buffalo Bulls
Ball State Cardinals players celebrate their win with the MAC Championship trophy after defeating the Buffalo Bulls (Photo by the Ball State Football/Instagram)

The team also has four Heartland Collegiate Conference Championships from 1964 through 1967. Plus, their first conference championship game came in the Indiana Intercollegiate Conference in 1942.

Related: Ducks win fourth Pac-12 Conference Championship, defeats Trojans

Mike Neu joins Bill Lynch, Dwight Wallace, Dave McClain, and John Magnabosco as Conference Championship coaches. Only Ray Louthen (four times) and Paul Schudel (twice) have multi conference championship wins at the school.

With the win, the Cardinals improved to 6-1 on the season. They were 5-1 in conference play during the regular season.

The loss was the Bulls first loss on the season, as they fell to 5-1. They were 5-0 in conference play before the championship game.

Related: Azusa Pacific has made the decision to shut down their 55-year-old football program

This season, the Cardinals had a mantra. It was “Detroit or Bust.”

“The credit goes to our young men,” Cardinals head coach Mike Neu said. “I told the guys before we felt the hotel that this might be the only chance they get to play in a game like this. We earned ourself a MAC Championship. I might not ever leave Ford Field [Friday night].”

Cardinals quarterback Drew Plitt went 20 of 32 for 273 yards. He had three touchdown passes and one interception.

Related: Vanderbilt hires alum Lea, as their head football coach

Tye Evans had 18 carries for 94 yards. Yo’Heinz Tyler had had six receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown.

“I’m speechless,” Plitt said. “Back in 2016, we said we would be the ones to change the program. There were some tough times. We stuck through it and here we are now — Champions.”

Bulls quarterback Kyle Vantrease went 29 of 42 for 365 yards. He had one touchdown pass and one interception.

Related: Illinois fires Lovie Smith following 18-point loss to Northwestern

Kevin Marks Jr. had nine carries for 93 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Nunn had 13 receptions for 182 yards.

The Cardinals stopped Bulls running back Jaret Patterson. He had 18 carries for 47 yards. This was his worst game of the season.

Patterson had 152 rushing yards with three touchdowns in his last two games. In his second and third games of the season, the talented running back had 710 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Related: Auburn administration fires Gus Malzahn after eight seasons

“Our defense does not get enough credit,” Neu said. “They rose to the challenge. They [Buffalo] were leading the country in rushing and scoring. It was talked about over and over. In our building, we preached how you can’t beat getting 11 bats to the football. I love our defense. I would take them over anybody in the country. I’m proud of the job Tyler Stockton and the defensive staff has done. Our guys responded to the challenge.”

Tyler, Justin Hall, and Jalen McGaugby caught touchdown receptions for the Cardinals. Christian Albright also had a fumble return for a touchdown.

Plitt also scored on a rushing touchdown. Ball State kicker Jacob Lewis also made a field goal.

Related: Arkansas State hires Butch Jones as head football coach

Patterson, Vantrease, and Kevin Marks Jr. scored on a rushing touchdowns for the Bulls. Trevor Wilson caught a touchdown reception, as well.

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