The MAC's youngest rivalry has never been bigger. Wednesday night the Ball State Cardinals and Northern Illinois Huskies will go toe to toe at Huskie Stadium in a matchup of the conference's two giants. Many would say that this amounts to a MAC semifinal game with the winner comfortably in the driver's seat to represent the West division at the conference championship game in Detroit. It's a brief rivalry, but there's never been a shortage of drama.
The Bronze Stalk Trophy was designed by local DeKalb artist and nationally recognized sculptor Renee Bemis. The trophy depicts several cornstalks recognizing the Midwestern landscape surrounding DeKalb and Muncie. BSU and NIU first played for the trophy in 2008 and all time the Cardinals lead the rivalry 20-18-2. Since the inception of the Bronze Stalk Trophy however, Northern Illinois has dominated the series.
2008 - #18 Ball State: 45 Northern Illinois: 14 Muncie, Indiana
Ball State legend Nate Davis completed 18 of 22 passes for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns. Cardinals running back MiQuale Lewis carried the ball 19 times for 119 yards and wide receiver Louis Johnson caught 6 passes for 165 yards. With the victory Ball State ran its record to 9-0, winning all nine games by at least 12 points. Future Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Jerry Kill, whose team played Minnesota and Vanderbilt out of conference, had high praise for the Cardinals.
"There's no question that of the teams we've played this year that Ball State is the best football team we've played," said Kill. "Their quarterback is outstanding, they're fundamentally sound in all phases of the game and I have great respect for what they've done here."
Ball State would run it's record to 12-0 before losses to Buffalo in the conference championship game and Tulsa in the GMAC bowl. Northern Illinois would finish 6-7, losing to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl.
2009 - Northern Illinois: 26 Ball State: 20 Dekalb, Illinois
A hapless Ball State squad managed to stay competitive against a clearly superior Northern Illinois team. Entering the game 1-8 versus the 6-3 Huskies, the Cardinals trailed just 16-13 at halftime. Chandler Harnish completed all nine of his passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, and running backs Nathan Palmer and Chad Spann combined to rush for 132 yards. This loss was the sixth of fewer than seven points for the Cardinals on the season. Northern Illinois notched its fourth consecutive victory. Ball State's season, the first of the Stan Parrish era, would end 2-10. Northern Illinois would finish 7-6 following a loss to South Florida in the International Bowl.
2010 - Northern Illinois: 59 Ball State: 21 Muncie, Indiana
Northern Illinois broke the scoreboard on this one. Chandler Harnish completed 15 of 22 passes for 247 yards and Chad Spann carried the ball 17 times for 81 yards. For all those points NIU only actually compiled 442 yards. The Huskies scored in a variety of ways. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown, a pick six, and a fantastic punt return aided the Huskies. In the fourth quarter a freshman named Jordan Lynch got some snaps and tossed a 4 yard touchdown pass to Kyle Skarb. The loss dropped Ball State to 4-8, and marked the end of the Stan Parrish era. With the win Northern Illinois ran its record to 9-2. The Huskies would finish the season 11-3 after a 40-17 win over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl. Coach Jerry Kill resign from his position prior to the bowl game to take over the head coaching position at Minnesota.
2011 - Northern Illinois: 41 Ball State: 38 DeKalb, Illinois
This was a classic. Leading 31-14 early in the third quarter, Ball State couldn't hold a lead against a potent Northern Illinois offense that just wouldn't quit. Mathew Sims drilled two field goals in the final 2:46, the last with just eight seconds remaining, to complete the comeback. Chandler Harnish ran up a school record 519 yards of total offense, 338 passing and 181 rushing. Northern Illinois totaled a mind boggling 710 yards of total offense. Harnish's counterpart, Keith Wenning, completed 23 of 43 passes for 245 yards and two scores. Ball State seemingly had the game wrapped up, before a late pick six was negated due to a roughing the passer penalty. The loss would put Ball State at 6-5. The Cardinals finished 2011 6-6 and were not invited to a bowl game in Pete Lembo's first season as head coach. Northern Illinois wrapped up the season 11-3 and scored a victory against Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
2012 - Northern Illinois: 35 Ball State: 23 Muncie, Indiana
Last year's matchup saw Ball State again fall victim to a Northern Illinois comeback. The Cardinals held a 23-14 lead early in the third quarter. The Huskies did the rest of the scoring. Jordan Lynch finished the game with 195 yards through the air, 207 on the ground, and accounted for four of the Huskies five touchdowns. Keith Wenning threw til his arm fell off. The junior completed 42 of 71 passes for 434 yards and a touchdown. He was picked off twice. With the loss the Cardinals were 3-3 overall. The Huskies moved to 5-1. Ball State would go 9-4 in Pete Lembo's second year, falling to UCF in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. Northern's historic season earned them a spot in the Orange Bowl. The Huskies lost to Florida State and would end the season 12-2.
This rivalry has had some classic moments, but 2013 could truly be historic. Never before has the battle for the Bronze Stalk featured both Northern Illinois and Ball State playing at such a high level. This game is on national television, and is featuring NFL talent. Dueling high octane offenses will mean we are sure to see some fireworks Wednesday in DeKalb. With innovative coaching, top tier quarterbacks, and a national stage, expect the November 13th matchup between the Huskies and Cardinals to be the best installment of the Bronze Stalk game we've ever seen.