TUCSON, Ariz. – Tears were shed when Ball State coach Mike Neu told his players this summer that the season had been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When the Mid-American Conference changed course and decided to start a truncated season in November, the Cardinals were given a second chance. They turned it into the program's first bowl win in 10 tries.
Antonio Phillips returned an early interception 53 yards for a touchdown, Drew Plitt accounted for two scores and Ball State beat short-handed No. 19 San Jose State 34-13 in the Arizona Bowl on Thursday.
“We knew were granted an opportunity to do something special here,” Ball State safety Bryce Cosby said. “That says a lot about these guys. I can’t even fathom the amount of sacrifice with COVID and everything. We had to do everything a little different and I’m just proud of these guys.”
San Jose State (7-1, No. 22 CFP) had to play without its two coordinators and Mountain West Conference player of the year Cade Hall due to COVID-19 and other issues.
The Cardinals (7-1) took advantage, quick-hitting their way down the field on offense after Phillips' interception for a 27-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Mid-American champions bogged down in the second half but had four interceptions to beat consecutive ranked opponents for the first time; they defeated then-No. 23 Buffalo in the MAC title game.
“People ask if this is a Super Bowl-type game or a Pro Bowl-type game,” Neu said. “This is a Super Bowl-type game for us. I'm proud of these guys for playing Cardinals football.”