BY MASON PLUMMER | Lead Writer | Ball State Sports Link
On another frigid night in Muncie at Scheumann Stadium, MACtion was back.
The limited number of fans in Scheumann Stadium were covered in multiple layers from head to toe as they watched the Cardinals of Ball State take on the Huskies of Northern Illinois.
The Bronze Stalk Trophy was on the line, as well as an opportunity for the winner of this game to cement its place as a real contender in the MAC West.
The game ended up coming down to a field goal from freshman kicker Jack Knight, who has been relied on to make clutch kicks in each game this season for Ball State.
Knight tied the game against Miami late in the fourth quarter, he hit a pressure-packed fourth quarter kick last week against Eastern Michigan and he came through again when Ball State needed him the most.
After a Ball State drive to put the game away sputtered out with the score reading 28-22 in favor of the Cardinals, Knight was relied on to make it a two-score game late in the fourth quarter and he came through again.
With the clock down to 2:20, Knight split the uprights yet to put the game away for his team and make the score 31-22.
Northern Illinois did drive down the field and kick a field goal to make the score 31-25, but it was forced into attempting an onside kick with 44 seconds left and Ball State recovered.
All that was left was Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt taking two knees to finish the game with a Cardinal victory, 31-25.
“It was a great win, I am really proud of this football team,” Ball State head coach Mike Neu said. “The first half ebbed and flowed, but we went into halftime 14-14. I am so proud of the way the guys answered the bell in the second half, there was never a time anyone on the sideline showed anything but positivity in that second half and it led to a great win.”
As Neu mentioned, the game did not start in an ideal fashion for Ball State, but the Cards turned it around quickly and never looked like losing. Ball State was expected to come into this game and handle a young Northern Illinois team easily, but it was not so, at least in the first half.
NIU scored on its first drive of the game and looked impressive doing so, driving down the length of the field in less than three minutes. It appeared that was the wakeup call the Ball State defense needed, though.
The Cardinal defense only allowed seven more points through the rest of the first half and scored seven itself, as cornerback Amechi Uzodinma picked off an errant pass from Northern Illinois quarterback Ross Bowers and took it 71 yards to the house late in the second quarter.
The interception returned for a touchdown was the first for Ball State since Sept. 11, 2010 when Charlie Todd picked off Liberty.
“Before the play even started I knew I was going to bailout so I could see the ball being thrown wherever it went, then I saw the ball and broke on it,” Uzodinma said of his interception. “That was not my man, I was in man coverage on the other receiver but I broke on the ball and made the play.”
The Ball State offense was not up to its usual high-scoring tendencies as it went into the break with just 14 points and seven scored from the offense. Star running back Caleb Huntley was shaken up in the first half and struggled to get going, tallying less than 30 yards from scrimmage.
The only offensive touchdown came from a Drew Plitt pass to the always reliable Antwan Davis for a five-yard score. Plitt was good on the day, going 17-25 for 214 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while adding 41 yards on the ground from 10 attempts.
The second half saw the Ball State offense come to life. Touchdowns from Huntley and Yo’Heinz Tyler came in key moments and put an end to any hope of a Northern Illinois upset.
Huntley was clearly not fully healthy and made multiple visits to the medical tent, but still carried the rock 25 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. That now makes it seven straight games with over 100 yards for Huntley as he continues his reign of terror.
Defensively, it was all about senior safety Bryce Cosby getting it done in the secondary. Cosby had a team-high 14 tackles against Northern Illinois and also added a key tackle for loss.
“This win means a lot,” Cosby explained. “I told the guys before the game that back in 2017 we lost to Northern Illinois 63-17. It was hard. I came from a winning program in high school and had never lost like that. I remember that game like it was yesterday. Anytime I see them now it’s personal and I am glad to be a part of this rivalry and be on the winning side of it.”
It was a gutsy performance from the Cardinals, who had to come from behind to put away Northern Illinois to move to 2-1. The Huskies, who looked impressive against one of the MAC’s better teams, move to 0-3 and are now completely removed from any chance it had to win the MAC West.
Ball State retains the Bronze Stalk Trophy and moves on to face the 2-1 Toledo Rockets next Saturday at the Glass Bowl.