The University at Buffalo Bulls were facing their toughest task of the season coming into the Mid-American Conference Championship game last night. Coming in, everything was turned into the Ball State Cardinals favor.
Ball State was coming into the game ranked No. 12 in the nation and had a 12-0 record to go along with it. The Cardinals have never lost to Buffalo, going 7-0 all-time against the MAC East foe.
They had junior quarterback, Nate Davis who threw 25 touchdown passes coming into this game, along with 3,095 passing yards (2nd in the MAC). The future NFL quarterback with a big time arm, was also named MAC Offensive Player of the Year and had the 6th best QB rating in the entire nation, at 169.3.
Ball State also had one of the best running backs in the nation to complement him. MiQuale Lewis came into the big game with 1,570 rushing yards and 20 TDs, ranking 4th in the nation with averaging 130.8 rushing yards per game.
UB was going up against a defense that was only allowing 16.7 points per game, not to mention that Buffalo was 0-8 all-time against ranked opponents since moving up the the FBS in 1999. They managed to score only 70 points combined in those 8 games, good for 8.75 points per game against ranked foes.
Just taking a quick look at common opponents between the two schools, Ball State cruised through their schedule by beating Akron 41-24, Kent State 41-20, Miami of Ohio 31-16, and Western Michigan 45-22. The only close game that the Cardinals were apart of was their match up with Central Michigan which they won 31-24.
UB on the other hand, went through late game heroics and overtime thrillers to their season, not blow out wins. They beat Akron 43-40 but it took 4 overtimes before a winner was determined. Against Kent State, UB lost 24-21 at home. Buffalo lost to both Central Michigan, 27-25, and Western Michigan, 34-28 in overtime.
The loss to Kent State snapped a five-game winning streak. The only streak the Bulls had going for them was that the last time they were on national television, on ESPN 2 earlier this year, when they beat Miami of Ohio 37-17 on election night.
So despite UB coming into this game as the heavy underdog, 14 1/2 point underdog to be exact, Buffalo showed why the game is played out there on the field
UB won the game and the MAC Championship for the first time in school history by taking down undefeated Ball State, 42-24.
The changing point of this game was on a Ball State possession in the 3rd quarter with 5:31 left to play. Ball State had 1st and goal from the UB nine-yard line. Davis took the snap and handed the ball off to Lewis who started out going right but then cut it back left and went all the way across the field and stretching the ball over the goal line before heading out of bounds, or at least that it what people thought watching the game.
Lewis was ruled out of bounds inside the one yard line, and the call was reviewed. Despite evidence that looked like it went against the original call, the ruling on the field stood and Ball State would have to try and bound it in.
On 2nd and goal, inside the one, Lewis was given the ball on a pitch play to the left side but it was sniffed out by UB and it went for a loss of two. After a very undisciplined off sides penalty, Ball State had to try to convert 3rd and goal from the 8 yard line.
Davis was in the shotgun formation and took the snap. He looked around, stepped up in the pocket and after a pump fake decided to take off for the end zone.
The future NFL player tried to do his best John Elway impersonation with NFL scouts from the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Jacksonville Jaguars all in attendance.
Davis jumped and went air born at the two-yard line but was hit and spun in the air as Mike Newton of UB hit his right shoulder. Cornerback Josh Thomas delivered the blow on Davis to force the fumble, shoulder pad on football. The ball bounced around on the turf when Newton picked it up and ran 92 yards in the other direction for the touchdown.
Instead of Ball State taking a commanding lead, the entire game changed with UB now up again, 21-17.
You can say what you want about the call (it was a touchdown), but Ball State made the mistakes at the most inopportune time.
The Bulls stopped them on 2nd and Goal from inside the one, when all they had to do was let Davis take the snap and fall forwards but they tried the pitch run outside instead. It didn’t work. Then a five-yard, false start penalty backed them up five more yards, setting up the fumble.
On the ensuing drive, Ball State was moving down the field when disaster struck again. On the Buffalo 15, looking to put the ball in the end zone to regain the lead, a mix up on a snap count cause another fumble.
On 3rd and 3, from the 15 Ball State came out in shotgun and Davis was making adjustments on the field. All of a sudden, the ball was snapped and hit Davis in the shins. He couldn’t get a handle of it and the ball bounced 10 yards in the opposite direction after a Cardinal lineman kicked it accidentally. Sherrod Lott of UB, made the most of it and he scooped it up and took it 74 yards the other way to the house.
Now in a blink of an eye, UB came from being down, to now having a commanding 28-17 lead.
The game was sealed when running back James Starks, a 1,000 yard rusher himself for Buffalo, scored on a 1-yard TD run to give the Bulls a 42-24 lead late in the fourth. Ball State was never able to recover and turned the ball over five times in this one, one interception and 4 fumbles.
For the entire year, the Ball State team was carried by their junior quarterback, Nate Davis, but when it mattered most in last night’s game, Davis fumbled the game away.
UB scored two touchdowns on those fumbles just in returns (the first time two fumbles were returned twice in a game since 2003) and in total, UB scored 28 points off of takeaways.
So despite Ball State leading in every category in this game, having over 500 yards of total offense, they trailed in one area that mattered most, the points on the scoreboard.
The clock has still not struck mid-night for this Cinderella football team as they are now MAC Champions. Their final challenge will come January 3rd, at the International Bowl in Toronto against a big east foe.
Hopefully, the magic with this team can last a little longer.
Matt Schaefer broadcasted this game live on Youcastr.com. Click here to relive the game through his play-by-play of the MAC Championship. This is part one of a series of articles that will breakdown the record setting UB season, written by Matt, that will only be available on bleacherreport.com.
Up next; Will Turner Gill stay with Buffalo?