The Northern Illinois Huskies survived a late scoring opportunity by the Ball State Cardinals as they were able to hold off BSU on the final play of the game and get to 3-0 in the MAC.
Leading 24-16, the Huskies were forced to give the Cardinals the ball back with just over a minute to go. Ball State did all they could - even converting on a 4th-and-7 - and were able to drive down to NIU’s 35-yard line. On 4th-and-10 with :04 seconds to go, Riley Neal chucked a Hail Mary into the endzone but the Huskie defenders were able to bat the ball into the ground giving them the win and the right to hold on to the Bronze Stalk Trophy for the tenth straight season.
NIU (3-3, 3-0 MAC) showed signs of life on offense against the Ball State Cardinals (2-4, 1-1 MAC) as, for the first time all season, they scored in all four quarters and tallied a season-high 370 yards.
The Huskies run game really popped, as NIU ran for 227 yards and two scores while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Marcus Jones was the unlikely hero as his 12 touches went for 130 yards but it was Tre Harbison that found the end zone twice for NIU.
The Cardinals were also able to move the ball some as well, gaining 391 yards (260 passing, 131 rushing) but, more often than not, had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns which ended up being the difference in the ball game. Kicker Morgan Hagee went 3-3 and even hit a career high 51-yarder, giving Ball State all 9 of their points through three quarters.
Not only did they move the ball relatively well but their O-Line held Sutton Smith in check all day. For the first time in almost two seasons, Smith didn’t manage a TFL...in fact, he didn’t even record a tackle against the Cardinals; he did, however, record two QB Hurries.
The Huskies got out to 14-0 lead after D.J. Brown caught a 13-yard TD pass and Tre Harbison powered for a 1-yard score early in the second quarter. Ball State would add a pair of field goals to make it a 14-6 NIU lead at the half.
In the second half, the Huskies drove 80-yards on their second possession and, after Harbison’s second 1-yard TD run pushed it to a 21-6 lead, it looked like NIU might start rolling. However, another BSU field goal cut it to 12 points
Then, with just over nine minutes to go in the forth, Ball State was aided by a Marcus Childers interception that was returned 43 yards to the NIU 4-yard line, which set up the only Cardinal TD of the game and sliced the Huskie lead to just five. However, after an NIU field goal pushed it to an eight point advantage, the Cardinals were unable get any points on their final two drives and NIU was survived another close MAC contest.
Childers: 18-29, 143 yards, TD, INT
Jones: 12 carries, 130 yards
Harbison: 15 carries, 48 yards, 2 TD
D.J. Brown: 7 catches, 49 yards, TD
Antonio Jones-Davis: 16 tackles, TFL, sack, QBH
Neal: 32-56, 260 yards
James Gilbert: 19 carries, 79 yards, TD
Riley Miller: 5 catches, 65 yards
Justin Hall: 7 catches, 59 yards
Ray Wilborn: 11 tackle, 2 TFL, INT (43-yard return)
Next Saturday, after three straight road games, the Huskies return to DeKalb for homecoming as they welcome the Ohio Bobcats to Huskie Stadium.
The Cardinals will head north to Mount Pleasant where they’ll face the Central Michigan Chippewas.