With the win, NIU won the Battle for the Bronze Stalk Trophy for the 10th consecutive year and improved to 3-3 on the season, 3-0 in the Mid-American Conference.
“I’m really proud of our team,” said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey. “We finished. We had the opportunity to close the game out, and didn’t [on offense], but we have a tough group. They are fighters, they are finishers and they know how to win.”
Ball State (2-4, 1-1 MAC) scored its only touchdown of the game on a one-play, three-yard drive after Huskie quarterback Marcus Childers was picked off by Ball State’s Ray Wilborn with 9:19 to play and NIU leading 21-9. Wilborn’s 43-yard return, and a horse collar penalty on Childers on the tackle, gave the Cardinals the ball at the three-yard line. One play later, BSU’s James Gilbert scored and the PAT made it a one-score game at 21-16 with 9:15 on the clock.
The Huskie offense, behind the running of Jones and Childers, responded with a nine-play, 54-yard drive down to the Ball State 20. From there, Andrew Gantz’s 37-yard field goal was good to stretch NIU’s lead to 24-16 with 5:26 to play.
On the ensuing possession, Ball State drove from its 25 to the NIU 30. On fourth and one with 2:18 left, Weston Kramer tackled Gilbert for a two-yard loss and the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs. The NIU offense, though, was unable to pick up a first down and run out the clock.
Ball State got one final chance beginning at its 24-yard line with 1:06 to play. Behind quarterback Riley Neal, who completed 32-of-56 passes for 260 yards on the day as the BSU offense ran 96 plays, Ball State drove to the NIU 35 where four consecutive passes fell incomplete. The final attempt knocked down in the end zone.
“We were persistent,” Carey said. “We didn’t give up and we played a four-quarter game today. It’s hard to go on the road and get league wins. The defense was out there a ton against a very good, complete quarterback, and we didn’t get to him that much, but we were able to get him off his spot some and that’s what we needed to do.”
NIU took a 7-0 lead with 5:51 to play in the first quarter on its first first-quarter touchdown of the season. Senior D.J. Brown took a swing pass from Childers and eluded a pair of tacklers on his way to a 13-yard score. Jones set up the touchdown with a nifty 64-yard run on the previous play for his longest rush of the season.
The Huskies extended the lead to 14-0 with an early second-period touchdown as Tre Harbison scored the first of his two touchdowns on a one-yard run to cap a 10-play, 71-yard drive with 11:16 to play in the half. Childers completed passes to Cole Tucker, Jauan Wesley, Dennis Robinson and Spencer Tears on the drive.
On its next possession, Ball State had first and goal from the Huskie four yard line, but it could manage only a field goal after three plays netted minus five yards after Mykelti Williams made a six-yard tackle for loss on third down. The Cardinals then settled for a Morgan Hagee 26-yard field goal.
Hagee also hit from 51 yards out later in the quarter to make the score 14-6 Huskies at halftime.
Childers completed 11-of-17 first-half throws for 94 yards and finished the game 18-of-29 for 143 passing yards. Brown caught seven passes for 49 yards to lead seven NIU receivers on the day.
The Huskies, who compiled 227 rushing yards in the game, mixed the rush and the pass on its final touchdown drive of the game, traveling 80 yards in 14 plays and 5:43 to take a 21-6 lead in the third quarter. Harbison again got the touchdown as NIU converted a pair of third downs on the drive.
Ball State, which only reached the red zone twice in the game, including once on the interception return, got a 47-yard field goal from Hagee at the end of the third quarter.
Linebackers topped the Huskie tackle chart as Antonio Jones-Davis led the way with 16 stops, followed by Kyle Pugh (10) and Lance Deveaux Jr. (9). Weston Kramer had a career high seven tackles from his nose tackle spot.