In 2017 Ball State Football (5-1 MAC) went 2-10 and didn’t win a game in the Mid-American Conference.
In 2018, the Cardinals had a 4-8 record and went 3-5 in the MAC.
In 2019 they had a 5-7 record and went an even 4-4 in the MAC.
Ball State improved every season. Now in 2020 — a shortened six-game season — the Cardinals are heading to Detroit to compete in the MAC Championship.
Not only was it senior day in Ball State’s 30-27 win against Western Michigan (4-2 MAC), it was a game that represented the career of the seniors — battling through adversity.
The Cardinals were down 27-13 going into the fourth quarter. Head coach Mike Neu explained the parallels between the senior’s careers and the win against the Broncos.
“It is basically their career in a nutshell,” Neu said. “We got ourselves behind, but they battled. They fought and they scratched and they clawed. With having the adversity and to have the guys respond like that in the second half, kudos to our guys led by that group of seniors.”
Those tough days in the past prepared them for this game. All Neu said they had to do was believe, give their best effort and the success would pay off. That was his message to them at halftime.
“They have been through some tough days and some tough growing pains,” Neu said. “You keep working hard and attacking each day and give your best effort. That was my challenge at halftime. If we leave this locker room and believe we will win then we will.”
It took until the end of the third quarter for something to go Ball State’s way. With about five minutes left in the quarter, graduate defensive lineman Chris Agyemang shifted the momentum in the Cardinals’ favor with an interception.
It also took until the fourth quarter for Western Michigan to punt the ball. Ball State’s defense kept them out of the end zone the entire quarter and forced them to punt twice.
Redshirt senior inside linebacker Jaylin Thomas’ message about adversity is that good is always coming, and that was the case in the fourth quarter. It was also the case for his career and the struggles the senior class had to face. Thomas led the Cardinals with 16 tackles in the win.
“Going through adversity means success is coming,” Thomas said. “Everything that we have been through and waking up the next day after some tough losses in 2017 and years previous. We have been through it together.”
Neu said he was proud of the defense and how they competed late in the game. He believes the defense did what they have been able to do all season — weather the storm.
“The way we played and the way we competed,” Neu said. “It’s a credit to those young men, especially the defensive side of the ball, led by that group of seniors. There are some guys over there that have weathered the storm. That is exactly what they did again today. We weathered the storm and played our best football down the stretch when we had to.”
On the offensive end, senior receiver Justin Hall had one of the best games of his career. He caught 10 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Not only did he put up big numbers, but he also surpassed KeVonn Martin for the most receptions in school history with 252.
Hall echoed what Thomas and Neu said about what the seniors have had to deal with throughout their careers and how fitting his last game at Scheumann was.
“Since I got here my freshman year it has been a battle,” Hall said. “The continuous losing seasons. Continuous games without scoring. This just feels good. This group of guys worked over the top hard. They really just put their heads down and went to work. I am happy it is paying off for all of us.”
Neu said he was filled with emotion after this win because all he wanted to do after the game was tell his team that he loves them. Especially the seniors who had to deal with a lot of losing early in their careers.
“It took a lot of hard work over the years,” Neu said. “To look these guys in the 2016 and 2017 class in the eye and tell them I love them and to tell them, ‘thanks for hanging in there.’ We all believed and saw a lot in each other.”
The mantra all season for the Cardinals’ was ‘Detroit or bust.’ This was questioned after a week 1 loss to Miami (Ohio) — the previous MAC Champions. It was another situation of them having to face adversity and Neu is proud of how this team always responds.
“It was a great way to respond after the opening game, and we knew how critical it was to approach this one game at a time,” Neu said. “We knew what had to be done to accomplish our Detroit mission.”
Now Ball State will play Buffalo for the MAC Championship. The Cardinals’ backs will be against the wall in this game as well, as Buffalo is coming off of a 56-7 win against Akron and have yet to lose a game.
Contact Ian Hansen with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @ianh_2.