MUNCIE – Ball State recovered from a slow start against Northern Illinois and kept the Bronze Stalk Trophy in Muncie.
Caleb Huntley had 25 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown, making him the first Ball State player with seven consecutive 100-yard rushing performances and the Cardinals had their first pick-six since 2010 on their way to a 31-25 victory over the visiting Huskies at Scheumann Stadium. Cardinals wide receiver Yo'Heinz Tyler had seven catches for 108 yards, his first career 100-yard performance.
Ball State (2-1) won its second straight game after a season-opening loss and beat Northern Illinois for the second consecutive year following 10 straight defeats to the Huskies. Northern Illinois dropped to 0-3 in coach Thomas Hammock's second season. Hammock is a Bishop Luers graduate.
“We needed to fight and scratch and claw and the guys did that,” Ball State coach Mike Neu said. “In the second half, they really rose to the challenge. There was never any time where anybody showed anything but positivity on the sidelines. Great win.
“The Bronze Stalk Trophy stays here in Muncie for the second year in a row. I'm proud. That's a great accomplishment.”
The turning point in the game arguably came in the second quarter. With Northern Illinois up 14-7 and holding the ball in Ball State territory, quarterback Ross Bowers threw to the left side and cornerback Amechi Uzodinma II intercepted the pass.
He raced the other way and made one cut for a 71-yard pick-six. The explosive play tied the game at 14 and allowed Ball State to go into the half level despite being outgained 289-170 in the opening 30 minutes.
“The defense just kept battling and then we got that pick-six,” Neu said.
“You could just feel the momentum shift there on the sideline, the added punch that we needed, a little shot in the arm that we needed to get ourselves going there. We went in at halftime, the game was tied, but you could see the look in everybody's eyes like, 'Hey man, we know we've gotta come back out here in the second half and play a better half of football right here and make sure we go win this thing.' ”
After the break, the Cardinals began to impose their will on offense. Huntley, who had just 19 yards on seven carries in the first half after averaging 167 yards in the first two games, had 39 yards on the first two drives of the second half. The first of those ended with a Drew Plitt interception in the Huskies end zone, but Ball State bounced back with a nine-play, 59-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 3-yard Huntley run to put the Cardinals in front for good.
Tyler had a 64-yard catch and a 7-yard touchdown reception on the same drive early in the fourth quarter, helping Ball State extend its lead to 28-14. Northern Illinois closed the gap late, but the Cardinals recovered an onside kick with 40 seconds.
“It's on to the next one now,” Neu said. “Once we sang our fight song there in the locker room, celebrated, we said it was on to the next one.”