Arizona Bowl

Cardinals come out of the gate strong and never look back

(Tucson, AZ)  The most anticipated matchup in Arizona Bowl History had two conference champions squaring off at Arizona Stadium.

This is one of only two bowl games with conference champions facing off against each other in the 2020 season.

Both Offensive and Defensive Coordinators as well as several players for San Jose State stayed in California with positive covid tests.

Ball State came in as a nine point underdog to the #19 ranked Spartan but right off the “get go”  the Cardinals made a big hit on defense and at the 12:47 mark in the opening quarter, Antonio Phillips jumped an out route and took it to the house for the first score.

The high powered San Jose State team had issues moving the ball in their first two series. The Cardinals defense was amped up from their early play.

SJSU’s Coach Brett Brennon allowed the team to go home for the holidays and didn’t practice until two days ago.

Ball State kept the pressure on as they drove the ball 50 yards after a short punt in six plays with Will Jones from three yards out for  their second touchdown.

With the Spartans still shaking off the rust, BSU continued to roll scoring their third touchdown of the first quarter, this time with Ty Evans scoring from the three yard line to extend their lead 20-0.

Things went from bad to worse when Nic Jones blasted through the middle to block the punt and once again, the Cardinals had a short field to work with.

San Jose State’s defense was on the field for over ten minutes in the entire first quarter and the Cardinals took six plays and into the end zone and a 27-0 lead to finish out the first quarter.

All Mountain West quarterback Nick Starkel had a scant forty one yards passing as his timing and continuity wasn’t there to open the game.

BSU’s kicker Jacob Lewis missed a short twenty eight yard fields goal added to his missed extra point on the Cardinal’s first touchdown.

With an already depleted squad, Starkel took a hit after a thirty eight yard completion to Dominic Mazotti.

Backup quarterback Nick Nash came in and with the help of a pass interference penalty had the Spartans in scoring position at the BSU fourteen yard line.

It just wasn’t  San Jose State’s day as from the nine yard line, Nash was flushed out of the pocket and tried to force a pass into double coverage that was intercepted by BSU’s Bryce Cosby in the end zone.

The Spartans had one opportunity to get on the board but kicker Matt Mercurio shanked a forty nine yard field goal attempt and SJSU headed into the locker room wondering  how they could right the ship down 27-0 at the half.

SJSU has just twenty eight yards rushing in the first half and only four first downs. In a nutshell, that was a big part of the problem as their defense was worn down after being on the field for much of the half.

Ball State played a near perfect half as both offense and defense were on point and aggressive.

With a 5.3 average per play, that’s all coach Mike Neu could ask for setting his team with second and short opportunity and 3-4 in the Red Zone.

If things weren’t bad enough, the Spartans had to kick off to BSU to start the second half.

The Cardinals drove the length of the field only to cough the ball up on a bad exchange from center to quarterback and San Jose State finally caught a break and took possession on their own ten yard line.

Starkel tried to get a big chunk of yardage on the first play but was intercepted by BSU’s Brad Anderson to give the ball right back to the Cardinals.

The left cornerback for the Spartans bit on a hitch route and the picture perfect forty eight yard pass from Drew Plitt to Yo’Heinz Tyler on the fly and their first score since the first quarter to continue the blowout now at 34-0 with 9:42 still to go in the third quarter.

Charlie Bostic took the ensuing kickoff ninety nine yards and finally San Jose State was on the scoreboard. Trying to ride the momentum, Coach Brennan decided to go for the two point conversion which failed. BSU 34  SJSU 6.

Starkel threw his fourth interception with just over four minutes left in the quarter after the ball was tipped and the Spartans were running out of possessions and time.

San Jose State’s defense actually had done a good job since the four touchdowns they gave up in the first quarter.

In the waning minutes of the third quarter, the Spartans were driving and scored with one second to go on eight yard reception to Jermai Braddock to end the quarter 34-13.

The Spartans had an opportunity to score again, but because of the deficit, chose to go on fourth down in the end zone than to kick a field goal with under ten minutes left in the game.

Their last gasp drive ended up giving the ball back to Ball State on downs and the Cardinals just needed to run the clock out to give them their first bowl victory in school history.

The takeaways from the 6th Arizona  Bowl was when Ball State surged out to a four touchdown lead in the first quarter, it made it almost impossible for the depleted Spartans to crawl out of that big of a hole.

San Jose State was a much better team in the second half and scored thirteen unanswered points, but it was far from enough to overcome  four interceptions and a fumble as the Red Birds put the hammer down.

Final score 34-13 in the first matchup of the Mountain West and Mid American Conference in the Arizona Bowl alliance.

This is the first Arizona Bowl that a team outside of Mountain West Conference has won.

Congratulations to Coach Mike Neu and the Ball State Cardinals on their first bowl win in school history which will give these student athletes a fond memory of City of Tucson.


All photos captured from CBS Sports



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