The Huskies hit the road for the first time this season on Wednesday night as they traveled to Muncie, Indiana to battle the Cardinals of Ball State. Despite this game being played for the Bronze Stalk Trophy, it meant even more to a struggling NIU team looking to get in the win column.
Ross Bowers looked sharp early as he drove the Huskies down the field in seven plays, concluding with an absolute dime to Tyrice Richie in the end zone for the first score of the game.
Ball State running back Caleb Huntley was a player to watch in this matchup due to his power and speed out of the backfield. The NIU defense matched Huntley in the first quarter, limiting him to only 20 yards.
Early in the second frame, Ball State’s Drew Plitt connected with Antwan Davis for a five-yard touchdown that tied the game.
Something I liked in the first half of this game was the play-calling from Thomas Hammock. The offense was finding its groove and NIU found the endzone for the second time of the first half on a three-yard touchdown run by Erin Collins.
With 4:29 to go in the first half and the Huskies driving, Ross Bowers threw an interception that Ball State returned for a touchdown — a play that took the wind out of the sails for the NIU offense.
In his postgame press conference, Bowers took full credit for the pick six.
“This one was totally on me, I really messed up the signal,” Bowers said. “I was thinking one thing and our outside receiver was thinking something else.”
Each team logged three possessions in the third quarter and they were vastly different. NIU’s third-quarter struggles came to light again as all three drives lasted an average of two minutes and ended in punts. Ball State ran 21 plays and held the ball for just over nine minutes.
The Huskie defense stayed strong in the third quarter. Although they allowed one touchdown, Dillon Thomas snagged an interception in the end zone to keep it close.
Caleb Huntley would score with five minutes left in the quarter and a botched extra point would keep it a six-point game in favor of the Cardinals.
An early fourth-quarter touchdown and two-point conversion put Ball State up two scores.
NIU’s offense answered with a five-minute, 13-play drive finished off by an Erin Collins touchdown and a two-point conversion of their own to make it a six-point game once again.
Something I wanted to see on this drive was a greater sense of urgency. Down two scores in a winnable football game, I really thought NIU stuck with the “check to me” offense too long. Ball State ran all over the Huskie defense in the second half and found themselves with the ball and six minutes remaining. Perhaps things could have played out differently if the Huskies tried to push the pace a little sooner.
Ball State’s Jack Knight hit a 33-yard field goal on the next drive to put the Cardinals up 31-22. Following that score, an interesting decision by Thomas Hammock to kick a field goal and attempt to recover an onside kick didn’t work out.
John Richardson hit from 41 but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Cardinals, sealing the deal on a Huskie comeback.
The MAC now heads into a ten-day bye week before starting Saturday games on November 28th.
After the game, Thomas Hammock talked about the next ten days and how the Huskies will prepare for the final three games.
“We’re gonna take this time to try and improve,” He said. “To me, with ten days, you can almost go to a training camp mentality.”
Hammock also placed an emphasis on working on the “details” and the “fundamentals of techniques of doing your job.”
Ross Bowers finished the day 27-40 with 300 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Tyrice Richie led NIU receivers with 11 receptions, 108 yards, and a touchdown.
Erin Collins found the end zone twice and Harrison Waylee gained 67 yards on 17 carries.
Jordan Gandy led the defense in tackles with 11, Devin Lafayette was second with ten, and Kyle Pugh, who was ejected for targeting and will miss the first half of the Western Michigan game, finished with nine.
NIU will hit the road again in ten days to take on Western Michigan.
Ball State will also travel and go to Toledo.