MUNCIE, Ind. (WFFT) -- For the first time in 12 years, the Ball State football team is headed to Detroit. The Cardinals scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter Saturday to win 30-27 over Western Michigan at Scheumann Stadium.
Ball State (5-1, 5-1 MAC) clinched the MAC West Division title with its fifth straight victory and will play in the MAC Championship game Friday, Dec. 18 against East champ Buffalo.
The conference announced the Cardinals and Bulls will also represent the MAC in bowl games.
"Such a credit to the team because nobody panicked on the sideline," head coach Mike Neu said. "We hung together. We just kept battling and fighting ... Really the credit goes to the players. They earned a ticket to Detroit. Our ultimate goal is not to win the MAC West. Our ultimate goal is to win the MAC Championship."
Ball State scored the winning points Saturday in the final minute on a 22-yard field goal from Jack Knight, capping a dominant fourth quarter.
But the rally truly started late in the third. With Western Michigan driving near midfield and looking to go up three scores, BSU's defense made a game-changing play.
Christian Albright tipped WMU quarterback Kaleb Eleby's pass in the flat, and Chris Agyemang picked it off.
Momentum swung in the Cardinals' favor at that point.
Drew Plitt threw a touchdown pass to Yo'Heinz Tyler early in the fourth quarter to cut the WMU lead to 27-19.
The defense then made a stop, and BSU drove for the game-tying score.
Plitt, who finished the day with 249 yards passing and three touchdowns, found Justin Hall for a short pass that Hall took 55 yards to the end zone. Tyler added a 2-point conversion to tie the game.
After a red zone defensive stand for the Cardinals and punts by both teams, BSU took over near midfield with 2:46 to play.
The Cardinals methodically worked the ball to the 5-yard line, and Knight came on to send the game-winner through the uprights.
It wasn't over quite yet. Pandemonium broke out as WMU (4-2, 4-2 MAC) lateraled the ball around the field in desperation on the final play.
BSU appeared to stop the play, and both teams came onto the field. A Western Michigan player ended up with the ball and ran for the end zone.
Just as that happened, many viewers at home had their ESPN feed cut.
The officials reviewed the play, which featured multiple penalties, including an illegal forward pass that officially ended the game.
Then, a different type of pandemonium, broke out.
The Cardinals joined in celebration at midfield, the culmination of a year-long mission to reach Detroit.
Now the mission in even bigger, as they go in search of the program's first MAC championship since 1996.
"My hat is off to the seniors for staying in there during those tough years, and we all saw the same thing in each other and we knew that we could have a moment like this," Neu said. "It's a great accomplishment right now, but it's not our ultimate goal."
Hall caught 10 passes for a career-high 175 yards and two touchdowns.
Early in the game, he surpassed the school record for career receptions formerly held by KeVonn Mabon.
Hall now has 252 career receptions. Tye Evans scored BSU's first touchdown of the day on a 7-yard run in the first quarter.
Ball State's defense buckled down after allowing 325 yards and 20 points in the first half.
After Western Michigan scored again on its first possession of the second half, the Cardinals held the Broncos without a score on their final five possessions.
Senior inside linebacker Jaylin Thomas led the way with a career-high 16 tackles, while Brandon Martin had 14 and Bryce Cosby 11.
Fans can follow the Cardinals in the days leading up to the championship game with Ball State Football Championship Week presented by Northwest Bank and Community Hospital of Anderson.
The MAC Championship game will kick off Friday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN from Ford Field.