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Ball State’s senior-heavy roster clinches bowl eligibility in 20-3 win over Buffalo

The Cardinals secure bowl eligibility for the second consecutive year on an emotional senior night.

MAC Football Championship - Ball State v Buffalo Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Tuesday night could have marked the end of the road for a loaded Ball State senior class that featured 10 All-MAC selections from the 2020 season. The Cardinals season was bound to be over with a loss in Muncie, but the team powered through to extend its 2021 campaign. With a dominant 20-3 victory over Buffalo, Ball State clinched bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season.

The headliner of Ball State’s star-studded senior group missed last week’s game against Central Michigan, but Justin Hall returned Tuesday night to set an FBS record. By hauling in two receptions in the second quarter, Hall tied former Central Michigan wide receiver Bryan Anderson for the most consecutive games with a reception in college football history (54). Still dealing with a leg injury, Hall took the sidelines in street clothes in the second half as he concluded his final game in Muncie.

Hall’s longtime quarterback, Drew Plitt, first arrived on campus in 2016. The sixth-year senior also put a fitting cap on a storied career with the Cardinals. In the first quarter, Plitt accounted for both Ball State touchdowns in the regular season finale. He pushed through the pile on a QB sneak for his first rushing score of the year. Later in the frame, Plitt rolled outside the tackle box and scavenged the field before finding wide receiver Jayshon Jackson in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.

Up 14-0 in the first quarter, Ball State held a double-digit lead which would never become infringed upon. With Hall limited in the receiving corps, Jackson continued to carry the offense with 103 receiving yards on nine catches — his second highest receiving output since transferring from Cincinnati. Jackson accounted for over 58.5 percent of Plitt’s passing yardage in the Cardinals’ three-score victory.

Turnovers were also a major factor which limited Buffalo to 3 points. On the Bulls’ opening offensive drive, free safety Malcolm Lee intercepted a pass from Matt Myers and returned it 28 yards. The takeaway ultimately set up Ball State’s first touchdown of the night. Myers went on to toss three interceptions in the final quarter. One landed in cornerback J.T. Wahee’s hands on an attempted deep ball. Moments later, reigning All-MAC inside linebacker Jaylin Thomas captured his fourth pick of the season to complement a 14-tackle performance. Finally, captain and free safety Bryce Cosby nearly had a 99-yard pick six but his knee hit the ground as soon as he corralled the ball, upon further review.

Buffalo’s four interceptions prevented the offense from reaching the end zone. Despite posting one lone field goal on the scoreboard, the Bulls out-gained Ball State, 336-230. Myers provided production in a multitude of ways, passing for 188 yards and accumulating a team-high 94 on the ground. Leading rusher Dylan McDuffie attained 67 rushing yards and became the 10th player in Buffalo history to cross the 1,000-yard rushing barrier as the Bulls season drew to a close.

Several former All-MAC selections for Buffalo possibly played their final collegiate game. Senior inside linebacker James Patterson registered 10 tackles and a tackle for loss to conclude the season, while halfback Kevin Marks provided four rushing yards on three carries. Patterson and Marks were among Bulls seniors who competed in two MAC Championship Games and were responsible for securing the program’s first final AP ranking in history last January.

While Buffalo’s season is officially over at 4-8, Ball State may have its most important game ahead of it. The Cardinals will await their bowl destination on Sunday, Dec. 5 as one of eight bowl eligible teams from the MAC. Now that Ball State is 6-6, all six MAC West teams are bowl eligible for the first time ever.