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Ball State keeps the Bronze Stalk with a walk-off win, 20-17, over NIU

The Cardinals completed the comeback after Lombardi fumbled on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Ball State at Western Michigan Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ball State Cardinals (3-7, 2-4 MAC) trailed 17-10 with under six minutes remaining. But Northern Illinois quarterback, Rocky Lombardi, fumbled the ball on back-to-back drives giving the Cardinals the game tying touchdown and then the game winning field goal.

The Huskies (4-6, 3-3 MAC) turned the ball over three times, all on fumbles by Lombardi and allowed one of the worst offenses in the FBS to comeback and win.

Ball State jumped out to an early 7-0 on their first drive of the game, when quarterback Kaiel Kelly tucked the ball and ran it in from 6-yards out to cap the 7-play, 65-yard drive. Lombardi then fumbled on a read-option and the Cardinals had a chance to push the lead to ten but missed a 50-yard field goal attempt to keep it a one-score game.

NIU put together a nice drive a few possessions later when they drove 98 yards on 13 plays, which included a 21 yard run and a 18 yard reception by Trayvon Rudolph. Lombardi did his best impression of Kelly by keeping the ball and running it in for a 4-yard TD early in the second quarter.

The teams then traded field goals in the second quarter, with NIU tying the game, 10-10, on a last second field goal before the half. The third quarter was scoreless as the teams trading multiple punts and Ball State missing a short field goal.

Midway through the fourth the Huskies took the lead when Rudolph kept the ball on a read-option from the wildcat formation. He took the ball right, cut up the field and scampered 35-yards for the score.

After Ball State punted it back to NIU, the Huskies had the chance to run down the clock but that’s when the fumbles began. The second Lombardi fumble came on a botched read-option run, just like the first. It led to Kelly finding tight end Tanner Koziol in the endzone to tie the game.

On NIU’s next possession, Lombardi escaped pressure, pump faked, and then was hit just before he could throw the ball leading to his third fumble. The Cardinals then ran the clock all the way down to five seconds and drilled the 36-yard, game-winning, field goal to retain the Bronze Stalk. After NIU had won ten straight games, the Cardinals have now won four of the last five.

For BSU, Kelly finished 15/25 for 115 yards and a score. He also added 66 yards on 14 carries on the ground. Marquez Cooper ran the ball 25 times for 93 yards.

Lombardi was 15/26 for 141 yards. Antario Brown had 73 yards on 18 carries and Trayvon Rudolph had 69 yards rushing and 57 yards receiving with a rushing TD.

NIU out-gained BSU 315-301 but the Cardinals were 10/18 on third downs and controlled the clock, with time of possession favoring BSU 34:50-25:10.

The Huskies will need to win out to become bowl eligible. They host Western Michigan next Tuesday evening and end the season at Kent State on November 25th.

Ball State heads home for their final two games. They host Kent State on November 18th and then Miami RedHawks on the 25th.