After a rough start to the 2016 season, Northern Illinois began conference play in typical Husky-fashion: with a win. Rod Carey and the Huskies (1-4) defeated Ball State (3-2) 31-24 to earn the Bronze Stalk Trophy in Muncie and their first victory of the season.
The Huskies defense entered the matchup with only two sacks and one interception on the year, but re-established themselves. Led by junior outside linebacker Bobby Jones IV, the Huskies defensive unit caused trouble for the Cardinals, sacking quarterback Riley Neal five times and picking him off once.
Senior Anthony Maddie, replacing injured quarterback Drew Hare, captained the best offensive performance of the season for Northern Illinois. In addition to throwing for a career-high 298 yards, Maddie held his own on the ground, rushing for a game-high 160. He accumulated three touchdowns, including a 22-yard go-ahead strike to Kenny Golladay with 11:14 left, for the Huskies to propel them to their initial victory of the 2016 season.
Senior running back Joel Bouagnon broke out for his top performance of the season. He added 153 yards, but most importantly, sealed the game for Northern Illinois with a 19-yard scamper on third down late in the fourth quarter. Bouagnon ran physically throughout, dragging Cardinal defenders around on numerous carries.
Ball State led 17-10 earlier in the contest after capitalizing on a Northern Illinois fumble. The Cardinals benefited from an array of their opponents’ mistakes in the scoreless third quarter, but failed to transform any of the Huskies’ miscues into points. Kicker Christian Hagan shanked a 39-yard field goal and Maddie threw an interception to Ball State cornerback Marc Walton in the end zone, but the Ball State offense struggled to move down the field. The Cardinals lost the yardage battle 653-427 to the Huskies.
With the victory, Northern Illinois improves to 22-3 in MAC play under Carey. Despite the 0-4 start, the Huskies hope to follow-up by upsetting Western Michigan on the road in week six. Ball State continues to sport a winning record, but faces a tough road match versus Central Michigan next week.