The Northern Illinois Huskies scored 63 points, including two touchdowns by senior Jackson Abresch on a pair of blocked punt returns, and the Huskie defense broke the school record for tackles for loss in a game with 18 as NIU retained the Bronze Stalk Trophy for the ninth consecutive year with a 63-17 victory over the Ball State Cardinals on Thursday night at Huskie Stadium.
With the win, the Huskies improved to 7-3 overall, 5-1 in the Mid-American Conference while Ball State fell to 2-8, 0-6. NIU’s 63 points were the most since Nov. 2, 2013 when NIU totaled 63 points in a 63-19 victory over UMass.
“You talk about rivalry games, this is a rivalry game for us,” said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey. “We’ve had it now, and it’s great we love that trophy. We talked about it all week and we are really excited we get to keep it for another year.
“We’re very happy with the win, all three phases executed on a high-level, and it’s really hard to find fault at different times given the conditions. It is really hard to find a lot of flaws, so [I’m] really happy for the guys.”
The Huskie defense held Ball State to 83 rushing yards thanks in large part to the school-record 18 tackles for loss compiled by 14 different players, including seven quarterback sacks by seven different Huskies. NIU’s total is the highest in a single game by an FBS team this year. Defensive end Sutton Smith’s two TFLs gave him the individual school record for tackles for loss in a season with 22, breaking the tie with Scott Kellar (1984).
NIU has now held five of its 10 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing in a game, while linebacker Jawuan Johnson added to his team lead with his fourth interception of the season.
The Huskies forced 11 Ball State punts with the Huskies breaking through for two blocked punts in the game, both of which were recovered for touchdowns by senior Jackson Abresch. Leading 14-7 after Jordan Huff scored on a 24-yard pass from Marcus Childers, Abresch, a safety who had never scored a collegiate touchdown, picked up Trayshon Foster’s block at the 13 and returned it for a 21-7 Huskie lead.
“When we got the punt block to go up 21-7, I thought that was a big momentum shift,” Carey said. “I thought we rode that momentum and kept it going.”
Abresch’s second touchdown capped the scoring for NIU when he recovered Jauan Wesley’s punt block in the back of the end zone.
"I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates because in both instances, they blocked it and I was in the right spot,” Abresch said. “This is the third week we've had a blocked punt, the third week in a row. We knew it was going to be there; it was good execution by the whole unit."
NIU has now blocked four punts on the season; prior to this year, the Huskies’ last punt block was in 2011.
NIU quarterback Marcus Childers completed 10-of-22 passes for 141 yards and a career high four touchdowns before giving way to back-up Daniel Santacaterina with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter and a 49-14 Huskie lead.
Santacaterina completed just one pass in two throws – he hit Jauan Wesley with a 70-yard touchdown, as Huskie quarterbacks combined for a season-high five touchdown passes. NIU totaled 433 yards on just 69 plays to average 6.3 yards per play and converted nine-of-14 third downs.
Senior running back Jordan Huff, back in the line-up after missing three games due to injury, made his presence felt with a pair of touchdowns as he put NIU ahead to stay with a 24-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, then added a 35-yard rushing TD in the third quarter.
Tight end Shane Wimann opened the scoring for NIU when he took a four-yard shovel pass from Childers into the end zone for his seventh touchdown of the season, breaking the NIU school record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end in a season.
NIU returns to action at Huskie Stadium next Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m. when the Huskies play host to Western Michigan on Senior Night. Ball State is back in action Thursday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. when the Cardinals play host to the Buffalo Bulls.