TUCSON, Ariz. (Ball State Sports) — In a memorable football season that almost didn't happen, Ball State finished it by making history. The Cardinals scored 27 first-quarter points and cruised the rest of the afternoon to capture the first bowl victory in school history, a 34-13 win over AP No. 19 San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl.
The bowl win caps a seven-game winning streak for the Cardinals that featured a conference title and put this team among the greatest in school history. In the strangest of years, Ball State was at its best. And the Cardinals brought their best effort on the biggest stage of the season, a nationally-televised bowl appearance against an undefeated, ranked team.
"I'm so proud of our football team and the effort that's been put in week in and week out," head coach Mike Neu said. "It's high-character men doing things the right way. We got here because of hard work. We embraced the underdog role, and we came out with a purpose. We wanted to seize the moment, and we've done that. Playing on this stage, on CBS, we wanted to put our best brand of football on the field, and our guys earned it."
The Cardinals (7-1) jumped on the Mountain West champ SJSU (7-1) early, scoring twice in the first five minutes of the game and four touchdowns in the opening 14 minutes. Cornerback Antonio Phillips started the scoring in the game's first possession, taking an interception 53 yards for a touchdown. The lead grew to 13-0 after the Cardinals capitalized on a short punt. BSU took over at the 50 and scored again quickly, with Will Jones punching it into the end zone on a 3-yard run. Tye Evans later added a 3-yard TD run of his own to make it a 20-0 game. On another short field after a Nic Jones blocked punt, Drew Plitt scored on a quarterback sneak to give the Cards a 27-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Cardinals defensive unit turned in its greatest effort, picking off four passes and nearly a fifth on a play that was overturned. San Jose State managed just 69 yards on the ground and was 1-for-11 on third downs, as Ball State protected its early lead with swarming defense.
"The defense was unbelievable from start to finish," Neu said.
Yo'Heinz Tyler caught four passes for 113 yards and scored BSU's fifth and final touchdown, a 48-yard catch from Plitt. Jones led the Cards with 89 yards rushing on 22 carries, as the Cardinals pounded the ball for 189 yards on the ground before kneeling in victory formation. Plitt finished with an efficient 12-for-19 day for 217 yards and touchdowns passing and rushing.
The Arizona Bowl defensive player of the game was safety Bryce Cosby who had one interception, and nearly another one, plus a team-high nine tackles. Brett Anderson II and Jimmy Daw had the other two picks. Plitt was named offensive player of the game.
"We knew we had the opportunity to do something special here. We bought in as a team," Cosby said. "We could've gotten complacent after the conference championship win, but the coaches did a great job keeping us locked in. We came out and executed. I love these guys, and I'm proud of the way we played."
"All season we kept saying, 'The job's not finished.' Well, the job is now finished," Neu said. "We are so excited to bring a bowl win back to Muncie, Indiana."