Ball State beats No. 19 San Jose State 34-13 in Arizona Bowl

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

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.”

Already short-handed, the Spartans lost tight end Derrick Deese Jr., the team leader with five touchdown receptions, to a neck injury on the first play from scrimmage.

Quarterback Nick Starkel injured his left knee in the second quarter but later returned wearing a brace. He threw for 268 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions.

“Ball State came out and played hard and they get rewarded for it,” said Starkel. “We felt confident with the guys we had going into this game and I take full responsibility for the interceptions because when I have the ball in my hands, it’s all on me.”

Both teams arrived in the desert on a roll.

The Spartans, who went 1-11 just two years ago, had their best season since going 13-0 in 1939. San Jose State won its first Mountain West championship and had its first winning season since 2012.

The Spartans did it despite having to relocate for training camp and not being able to play on their home field for most of the season.

Ball State lost its opener to Miami of Ohio, then reeled off six consecutive wins to earn its first MAC championship since 1996.

The Cardinals got off to a quick start against the short-handed Spartans.

Phillips scored on his interception when Starkel had a miscommunication with a receiver on the Spartans’ opening drive. Ball State kept rolling with its up-tempo offense, scoring on 3-yard runs by Will Jones and Tye Evans. Plitt also scored on a 1-yard, fourth-down run after Nic Jones blocked Elijah Fischer’s punt.

“We came out with a purpose,” Neu said.

San Jose State finally got some momentum after Starkel was injured, but backup Nick Nash threw an interception in the end zone. Spartans kicker Matt Mercurio closed the ugly first half with a badly-missed 49-yard field goal attempt.

Plitt’s 48-yard TD pass to Yo'Heinz Tyler made it 33-0 before San Jose State finally scored on Charlie Bostic’s 99-yard kickoff return.

“The best story of Spartan football this year has been our brotherhood and our family,” Spartans coach Brent Brennan said. “In our process of building that together and for those guys who couldn’t be a part of today, it’s completely devastating and heartbreaking for them and everyone feels that.”

THE TAKEAWAY

San Jose State’s bid for an undefeated season began to unravel before the game started and a shaky first quarter put the Spartans in too big of a hole.

Ball State started fast against the short-handed Spartans and rode it to a historic first bowl win.

POWER-RUNNING DUO

Plitt was efficient, throwing for 217 yards on 12-of-19 passing.

He got help from the hard-running duo of Jones and Donny Marcus.

Jones had 89 yards on 22 carries and the touchdown. Marcus had 69 yards on 10 carries, including a 28-yard run.

UP NEXT

San Jose State: The Spartans received good news earlier this week when Starkel announced he would return for a final college season. San Jose State will have to replace several seniors on offense, but most of the defensive starters are juniors or younger.

Ball State: The Cardinals will have to retool on offense next season after losing eight senior starters, including Plitt. Ball State also will have to replace several seniors on defense.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

air force
Peter Joneleit/Getty Images
0 Comments

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

florida gators
Donald Page/Getty Images
0 Comments

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”