The MAC season is one-day old, but we may have had the conference’s game of the year already, as the defending MAC champion Miami RedHawks survive in a wild 38-31 victory over the Ball State Cardinals in the latest edition of the Redbird Rivalry.
After a trio of consecutive three-and-outs by both teams, Ball State finally got things going on its second drive of the game as Drew Plitt accounted for 38 total yards before Justin Hall found the endzone on a physical 11-yard touchdown run. Miami responded on the ensuing drive by moving the ball to the BSU 5-yard line, but a fumble by Ontario Russell recovered by Emeka Jillani ended the scoring chance for the RedHawks.
A three-and-out by the Cardinals allowed the ‘Hawks to string together a scoring drive, but it came at a price. Brett Gabbert made the decision to scramble on a third-and-9 and Bryce Crosby delivered a helmet-to-helmet blow that knocked Gabbert out of the game. Crosby was disqualified and backup QB AJ Mayer got the Red and White deep inside the redzone, which set up a two-yard scoring run by Zach Kahn.
The tie didn’t last for long though as Plitt found Hall on an electric 66-yard catch and run, but could not add to the lead as Jack Knight missed a 34-yard field goal after a Miami three-and-out. The RedHawks used the momentum to drive the ball inside the red zone again, but ultimately settled for a 37-yard field goal by Henry Beckett to cut the deficit down to four points. In a strange end to the first half, a late by Miami on Plitt with time running out gave the Cards an opportunity for another field goal but a 50-yard attempt by Knight ran out of steam.
Ball State received the ball to start the second half and made the most of it as Caleb Huntley outran the entire Miami defense on a 45-yard touchdown run to give the Cardinals a 21-10 lead. Miami answered right back with a 12-play, 79-yard drive capped off by a six-yard pass from Mayer to Jack Coldiron.
The following drive, the Cards moved the ball across midfield before sputtering and forcing Plitt to become punter to pin the ‘Hawks on their own two-yard line. Miami found the endzone again in just five plays as Coldiron hauled in his second scoring catch of the night. Following a BSU three-and-out, Mayer threw his third scoring pass of the night to Jalen Walker to go up 31-21 in the fourth quarter.
However, the Cardinals responded on the ensuing series as Huntley scored on an 18-yard TD scamper to cut the deficit to three points with just over seven minutes to go in the game. The Ball State defense forced a Miami punt and Knight connected on a 47-yard field goal to tie the game with 1:08 left in regulation.
Miami went three-and-out once again to set up Ball State with a prime opportunity to win the game in regulation, but Ryan McWood came up with a clutch interception to set up 2-yard TD plunge from Kahn for the go-ahead score with ten seconds to go in the contest.
The RedHawks (1-0) return to action Tuesday when they hit the road to take on Buffalo, while the Cardinals (0-1) host EMU on Wednesday.