By Dane Massey | Sports Link
MUNCIE Ind — It was an electric atmosphere on Saturday as the Cardinals beat Northern Illinois in double overtime to complete a dramatic comeback 44-38.
It seemed like it was another tough loss for the Cardinals as Northern Illinois led the Cardinals 24-7 going into the second half. However, the Cardinals outscored the Huskies in the second half by scoring 31 points to Northern Illinois seven. Ball State quarterback John Paddock threw a game-tying touchdown pass to tight end Tanner Koizol with 36 seconds left to go in the game to send the game to overtime.
In the first overtime, both teams struggled to get something going on offense. Both settled for field goal attempts, both of which would be missed, sending the game to a second overtime. Runningback Carson Steele got the first and only score of overtime with a one-yard run to put the Cardinals up six. However, the Cardinals missed the extra point attempt which meant that a touchdown and an extra point by Northern Illinois would severely cost Ball State.
Despite the pressure, Ball State forced a fourth down which Northern Illinois would go for it. Huskies quarterback Ethan Hampton threw a pass to Cole Tucker on the sideline which was held onto for a second before cornerback Tyler Potts forced the ball out, making it an incomplete pass and sealing the comeback win for the Cardinals, and just like that, the Cardinals secured the Bronze Stalk trophy for the third time in four years and improved to 2-3 on the season while getting their first win in conference play.
“Never a doubt,” Head Coach Mike Neu said. “My hat is off to every football player on our team for just believing at halftime, for coming back out into the second half with a positive, can-do attitude… It was just an awesome win against a good football team and it’s great to be able to get the Bronze Stalk trophy back to Muncie, Indiana…”
With the dramatic win over Northern Illinois, there are a lot of upsides that came out of the crucial game. However, the upside also comes with a few bumps in the road.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room.
The comeback itself was an incredible feat for Ball State. It was arguably one of its most incredible victories since Mike Neu took over as head coach. To put in perspective how big the comeback was, ESPN had the win probability in the 90s in favor of Northern Illinois for most of the matchup. It was up until the two-minute mark in the fourth quarter for the probability to change drastically.
Ball State’s 21-point comeback marked the third-largest comeback in program history, trailing only a 22-point comeback vs. Eastern Michigan on Nov. 12, 2005, and a 27-point come-from-behind win vs. Toledo on Oct. 9, 1993, that was quarterbacked by none other than head coach Mike Neu.
Runningback Carson Steele continues to prove to be a lethal threat on the ground, rushing for 77 yards and three touchdowns. Steele now has over 480 rushing yards in just five games and still leads the MAC in rushing. John Paddock also had a phenomenal game despite throwing two interceptions, Paddock threw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns on his way to earning another MAC West Division Player of the Week award for the second consecutive week.
The comeback marked a crucial win for Ball State. Not only did the Cardinals knock off a MAC West rival in dramatic fashion, but they put themselves back into the Mid-American Conference title race. The Cardinals currently sit at 1-1 in the MAC while holding a 2-3 overall record. Ball State currently ranks third in the MAC West, sitting behind Western Michigan and Toledo who both sit at 1-0.
Luckily for the Cardinals, another division opponent is next on the schedule as the Cardinals travel to Mount Pleasant, Mich. to take on Central Michigan. Western Michigan will play Eastern Michigan who is coming off a loss to Buffalo, while Toledo will play Northern Illinois in Dekalb Ill. so it will definitely be a weekend to watch as Ball State battles with the Chippewas.
The Bad and The Ugly:
For many watching, the bad of the game was definitely ugly in itself, and for Ball State was easily spotted throughout the game.
Giving up big plays in crucial situations.
On Northern Illinois’s first drive of the game, the Huskies faced a third and five at Ball State’s 13-yard line. A throw by Ethan Hampton to Kacper Rutkiewicz would result in a touchdown to put the Huskies up 7-0. From there, the crucial stops got worse and worse. At the beginning of the second quarter, the Huskies faced another third down at their own 48-yard line. Runningback Harrison Waylee would take off for a 52-yard touchdown.
Many crucial plays like this would result in fatal mistakes and would cost the Cardinals dearly. Ball State gave up more than 300 rushing yards to end the game, with Harrison Waylee leading the Huskies in rushing with 230 yards and three touchdowns while averaging a shocking 7.7 yards per carry. Ball State only had 77 yards on the day with Carson Steele averaging 3.2 yards per carry.
Although Ball State did manage to pull it together towards the end, the scars still showed for this game, and their ability to finish games is still a bit in question.
Ball State returns to action this Saturday (Oct. 8) when it goes on the road to take on Central Michigan. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. with the game being broadcast live on ESPN+. Follow along with @bsusportslink for more updates.