MUNCIE, Ind. -- Ball State had everything planned Tuesday night.
It hand-picked the celebratory music, and fans crashed the party by waving signs and flags as they danced with players near midfield. Yes, after waiting nearly 60 years for a perfect regular season, the Cardinals made sure they got this one right.
MiQuale Lewis ran for three touchdowns and set a school single-season record, Nate Davis threw for one score and ran for another and even the defense got into the end zone as No. 15 Ball State rolled to a 45-22 victory over Western Michigan, clinching a spot in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
"Everybody's dream is to go undefeated," Davis said after throwing for 273 yards and running for 64.
Thanks to him and Lewis, it's not just a dream any more.
A program that won only six games in coach Brady Hoke's first two seasons is now one of four remaining unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Cardinals' milestone victory capped their first perfect regular season since going 8-0 in 1949, their first undefeated conference season since 1978 and clinched a second straight bowl bid for the first time in school history.
Even receiver Dante Love, the senior who sustained a career-ending spinal injury back in September when the Cardinals (12-0, 8-0) finally knocked off Indiana, couldn't hold back his emotions. He was hugged by a coach in the elevator, who told Love this season has been all about him.
"It made me feel real good," Love said before talking to his teammates in the locker room. "Coming from winning just a couple of games as a freshman to winning them all is unbelievable."
Apparently, Ball State students felt the same way.
A record 11,088 showed up on a holiday week when many could have headed home. Instead, they stayed in Muncie to wave white towels, and with more than a minute to go, they came out of the stands and crowded around the Cardinals before rushing onto the field for this improbable party.
It was a far cry from Hoke's first season, when the season finale drew a crowd of about 2,000.
Then again, few around these parts have ever seen a team quite like this.
Lewis produced another 100-yard game, finishing with 120 yards on 32 carries. His final TD, a 1-yard run with 4:31 left, gave him 20 rushing scores this season, one more than Mark Bornholdt in 1979.
Davis was 17-of-25 and efficiently dissected the Broncos defense. Senior Louis Johnson continued his run of big games, catching four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
And cornerback Trey Lewis sealed the victory -- and the march to Detroit for a Dec. 5 date with Buffalo -- with a 35-yard interception return late in the third quarter.
All that was simply too much for Western Michigan (9-3, 6-2) to prevent Ball State from playing in its first league title game. Ball State hasn't won the conference championship since 1996.
"We needed to play our best game and we didn't," Broncos coach Bill Cubit said. "We made way too many mistakes. That is a good football team. In the four years I've been in this league, they're better than any team I've seen."
The Cardinals were out to prove it in this festive atmosphere.
MiQuale Lewis got things started quickly, ducking under a defender, staying on his feet and scooting in for a 10-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter. On Ball State's next series, Davis zipped a nifty 40-yard touchdown pass to Johnson, whose stop-and-go move enabled him to elude two defenders.
Western Michigan answered with a trick play. Tim Hiller tossed a lateral to backup quarterback Drew Burdi, who threw a 36-yard TD pass to Scneider Julien to make it 14-7, and the Broncos tied it early in the second quarter on a beautiful lob from Hiller to Juan Nunez, who caught the 9-yard pass over his shoulder.
That got the Cardinals, who have only one win this season by fewer than 10 points, riled up.
"When the score got to 14-14, I thought they were really determined to come back," Hoke said.
They weren't even trailing.
Ball State broke the tie on a 43-yard field goal from Ian McGarvey and took a 24-14 halftime lead when Davis scrambled for a 6-yard TD run, his fourth rushing score of the season.
Lewis' 1-yard plunge late in the third quarter and Trey Lewis' interception return on the ensuing series wrapped it up.
Except, of course, for MiQuale Lewis' record-breaker and the celebration Ball State had waited years to see.
"I don't know what it reminded me of, but it was neat," Hoke said. "That was just special."
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