With the coveted Bronze Stalk on the line, and two legend-in the-making Mid-American Conference quarterbacks facing off on a chilly November night inside Huskie Stadium, last year’s tussle between NIU and Ball State kept fans from both schools on pins and needles.
All knotted up heading into the fourth quarter, it was the Huskies who finally surged to score the final 21 points of the game for a thrilling win.
Jordan Lynch and Cardinal QB Keith Wenning both have graduated, but the rivalry lives on – and, Huskie boss Rod Carey says, 3-5 Ball State poses “a big time challenge to go to their place for a night game and try to come out of there the way we want to come out there.”
“They’re executing at a really high level and they’re just a really good football team,” Carey says.
“They have a really good running back. They put a new quarterback in there. He’s playing well now. They have two good wide receivers, after losing wide receivers last year,” he adds. “Defensively, I think their front is playing as well if not a little bit better than it was last year. They have a fine linebacker and then their secondary is experienced, veteran, fast and physical.”
Carey and the 6-2 Huskies travel Wednesday to Muncie for the start of midweek #MACtion, which begins at 7 p.m.
Fans can watch ESPN2 or listen to the play-by-play on AM 560 WIND from Chicago or WCPT 92.5 FM from DeKalb.
Wednesday’s battle comes 10 days since the Huskies prevailed over Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti, providing NIU with the ideal amount of rest.
“You always want to keep playing. You get into that rhythm and you like that,” Carey says. “A 10-day bye is about perfect. Two weeks, you can do a lot of good health-wise, but you can kind of also lose rhythm. I think with 10 days you get some good rest, you get feeling better but you also kind of keep the rhythm.”
“The most important part is getting ahead,” wide receiver Juwan Brescacin adds. “Watching film on them as a team and as individuals, and also taking care of our bodies as much as possible this late in the season, will also give us an advantage. If we feel fresh going into the game, we have a good opportunity to do something.”
Doing “something” will depend on ball protection, the coach says: Ball State has recovered 10 turnovers in its last two games.
“You get 10 turnovers in two games, that gives you life real quick,” Carey says. “I think their defense does a great job of putting their helmet on the ball and tackling the right way. They’re heads up, they’re seeing it, they’re putting their face right on the ball and the ball’s coming loose.”
On the other side of the ball, Cardinal running back Juwan Edwards is “a powerful, elusive, shifty guy. He has all of the qualities you look for. He has good size, good feet, good hips, good vision and he runs with a great pad level. You see him running down on special teams too, so you know he’s just a consummate team leader.”
NIU, of course, brings Drew Hare.
Hare leads the Huskies in rushing (581 yards) and has scored five touchdowns, a number equaled by Cameron Stingily and Joel Bouagnon. He’s completed 96 passes for 158 yards and one interception, good for an efficiency rating of 147.65.
The redshirt sophomore “is progressing well,” Carey says.
“I think he’s starting to play the quarterback position, not just as an athlete but as a passer and also as a leader, and our team is responding to that so I’m happy with that,” he adds. “I never want to discount Anthony Maddie on this thing, too, because he’s played in every game but one this year and he’s performed very well too.”
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.