Ball State wins first MAC title since 1996

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For the first time since 1996, Ball State is the champion of the Mid-American Conference.

Ball State had a two-touchdown Friday night against undefeated Buffalo, but Mike Neuro’s team was upset 38-28 in Detroit.

The key to Ball State’s historic win was a 21–0 run to close out the first half and its ability to tick off Jarrett Patterson, the Buffalo star running back.

Buffalo had a 21–14 lead during the second quarter, but the Cardinals would score on back-to-back possessions via a Drew Plitt touchdown pass. The second was a deep ball, to give the ball to Jalen McGoffie on a wide ball to open, leaving 1:30 in the first half with a 28-21 lead.

She was about to grow leads.

In the third play of the ensuing drive, linebacker Jimmy Da crashed from the sidelines and snatched Buffalo quarterback Kyle Vantry. The ball bounced to the right of Ball State’s Christian Albright, who scooped it up and ran for 34 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 35-21 lead at halftime.

That lead proved to be far from enough. The first half was loose and filled with big plays and points. The second half was the opposite.

Patterson, who averaged over 200 yards per game and more than eight yards per carry entered the game, was limited to just 47 yards on 18 carries. Meanwhile, Buffalo had two turnovers, blocked a short field goal and slashed it three times in the second half.

Those two turnovers in the Downs came in the fourth quarter. There was a stop by the Ball State defense in the Red Zone when Buffalo had to play 10 points to 8:31. The second came near the midfield on fourth-and-1 at the 2:52 mark. 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 the MAC title game until Friday night. The program’s only second appearance in the title game was back in 2008, also against Buffalo. It was a 42-24 win for the Bulls that day.

However, it was Ball State’s turn to celebrate this time.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 18: Christian Albright # 9 of the Ball State Cardinals celebrated after recovering a touchdown against the Buffalo Bulls on December 18, 2020 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Nick Antaya / Getty Image)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN – DECEMBER 18: Christian Albright # 9 of the Ball State Cardinals celebrated after recovering a touchdown against the Buffalo Bulls on December 18, 2020 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nick Antaya / Getty Image)

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Travis M. Andrews
Travis M. Andrews is a features writer for The Washington Post. He joined The Post in 2016 as a reporter for Morning Mix. He was previously a travel and culture editor for Southern Living magazine, a contributing pop culture reporter for Mashable and the Week, and a contributing editor for the Syfy blog Dvice. He also has freelanced for magazines, including Esquire, GQ and Time. He is the author of the coming book "Because He's Jeff Goldblum," a semi-rumination and semi-ridiculous look at the career of the enigmatic actor and an exploration of the shifting nature of fame in the 21st century, to be published in November by Plume.