The 2020 Ball State Cardinals finished 7-1 and ranked No. 23 in the final AP Poll in a historic season for the program. The lone blemish on an otherwise perfect résumé? Ball State fell to the Miami RedHawks by a touchdown on the MAC’s opening week in November.
Revenge was on Ball State’s mind as the last two MAC champions moved the site of the Red Bird Rivalry to Muncie, IN. However, the RedHawks flew higher by a touchdown once again, upending the Cardinals 24-17 to spoil their 3-game winning streak. Since the Red Bird Rivalry trophy was officially sanctioned in 2017, Miami has claimed the hardware four times in five meetings.
RedHawks starting quarterback Brett Gabbert returned to the lineup after missing the team’s previous two contests. The sophomore’s presence was a welcoming site, and he provided his most efficient performance since enrolling at Miami. Gabbert completed 20 of 24 passing attempts while setting a season-high in yards with 207.
Gabbert delivered a pair of touchdown passes in the victory. The first spawned from an RPO near the goal line in the first quarter. He found tight end Andrew Homer to tie the game at 7 apiece. In the fourth quarter, on a drive extended by a 4th and 10 conversion, Gabbert squeezed the ball into a tight window to Nate Muersch for a 6-yard, go-ahead RedHawks touchdown. Each of Gabbert’s touchdown passes struck on critical 3rd and goal opportunities, and the third-year starter operated with poise in every high stakes situation.
The other MAC champion quarterback in this matchup, Ball State’s Drew Plitt, matched Gabbert’s efforts with two touchdown passes of his own. Plitt drew for blood by connecting with trusty receiver Justin Hall on the game’s opening drive for a 6-yard touchdown. To hand Ball State its only lead of the contest in the third quarter, he found Cincinnati transfer Jayshon Jackson for a 4-yard score.
Jackson was one of two receivers to put up a heroic performance in the Red Bird Rivalry. In his 40th collegiate game, Jackson crossed the 100-yard mark for the first time. The first-year Cardinal caught eight passes for 121 yards in a career performance. On the other end, Miami’s ol’ reliable Jack Sorenson strung together his third consecutive 110-yard outing. Sorenson managed 139 yards in last year’s win over Ball State and was one yard shy of duplicating his output on Saturday. He was the recipient of notable passes such as the 4th and 10 conversion and a trick play which featured wide receiver Jalen Walker flinging a 27-yard dime.
The difference in the contest was turnovers. Ball State lost the battle 0-2 and committed a costly one in the final seconds. Following a missed 51-yard field goal by Miami, the Cardinals had their shot at a game-tying drive. Reaching as far as the 19-yard line with one minute left, Plitt targeted Hall on a corner route on a play stemming from a tight, 4-receiver setup. RedHawks free safety Sterling Weatherford (5 tackles, 1 sack in the victory) jumped the route at the goal line and made a leaping grab to seal Miami’s third victory in four games.
With the victory, Miami still controls its destiny in the MAC East, sharing a tie with Kent State for the top of the division. After a 1-3 showing in non-conference play, the RedHawks are responding as they typically do by shining vs. MAC competition. Since 2016, no program holds a better MAC record than Miami’s 27-12 mark against other league members. That impressive record receives its next update on Tuesday, Nov. 2 when the RedHawks visit Ohio in the Battle of the Bricks rivalry.
Ball State’s sudden awakening after a 1-3 start finally faced its first hiccup. The Cardinals no longer control their destiny in the MAC West and are one of five teams in the division sitting 2-2 in conference play. Ball State also returns to midweek action on Tuesday with a matchup at InfoCision Stadium against Akron.