OK, so that was a crazy fourth quarter.
NIU’s football team went up by 14, thanks to scores from the offense and the defense, but saw that lead evaporate for the second time in the game. After what appeared to be a Cameron Stingily touchdown was called back for a holding penalty, it was time for the turnovers – the first from Drew Hare, the next from Ball State.
Hare and Co. were able to run down the clock considerably after that, courtesy of some more helmet-down charging by Stingily, who scored his third TD of the contest.
A minute and 15 seconds later, it was “Goodnight, Muncie!” as the Huskie defense recovered a Cardinal fumble to ice a 35-21 victory. Rod Carey and Co. improve to 7-2.
With the win, NIU retained ownership of the Bronze Stalk Trophy for the sixth consecutive season while improving to 7-2 on the season and 4-1 in the Mid-American Conference. The win sets up a critical MAC West Division showdown with MAC West leader Toledo next Tuesday in Huskie Stadium on ESPN2.
“In the second half, we got manageable first downs and we were able to convert,” Carey said. “Cameron ran well in the second half. Our offensive line and tight ends and receivers blocked well. It was good to see.”
After the teams played to a 14-14 tie while combining for 11 punts in the first half, NIU took the lead for good with 3:41 to play in the third quarter. Stingily finished a 14-play, 71-yard drive with a one-yard stroll into the end zone. NIU was four-for-four on third down plays on the drive. After going three-of-11 on third downs in the first half, the Huskies converted seven-of-11 third downs after halftime.
Stingily ran for a season-high 148 yards on 26 carries, with 91 yards in the fourth quarter alone. Tyler Wedel’s season-high seven punts included five downed inside the five-yard line.
Ball State was unable to move the football on its ensuing possession and was forced to punt, but the Huskies went three-and-out. However, Wedel unleashed a 64-yard boot that pinned BSU on its one-yard line. After advancing to its own 15 on three Jahwan Edwards runs, Brooks picked off BSU quarterback Jack Milas on the next play and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown and a 28-14 NIU lead.
Brooks’ interception, the first of his career, gave the Huskie defense its first points of the season. Ball State got a 30-yard kickoff return to the 46-yard line and from there, embarked on a quick six-play, 54-yard touchdown drive. The Cardinals used just 2:23 to pull back within seven points, with Horactio Banks scoring on a four-yard run.
NIU began another run-heavy drive, advancing to the Ball State 22-yard line and converting three third-downs along the way. But Hare lost the ball while being sacked by BSU’s Darnell Smith and Ball State recovered at their own 44-yard line and appeared to be in business for a potential game-tying drive, trailing 28-21.
The NIU defense, as it had all night, did not let that happen.
After two incompletions, defensive tackle Ben Compton intercepted a ball that had been tipped by NIU’s Perez Ford, giving the Huskies the ball back on the BSU 45 with 5:02 to play. From there, Stingily took over, rushing for all but one yard and scoring on a two-yard run with 2:45 left in the game to seal the win.
NIU had a season-high five takeaways on the night with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries versus a team that had won its past two games by forcing five turnovers in each game. The NIU defense played one of its best games, holding Ball State to 133 rushing yards on 31 carries and limiting Milas to a 16-of-39 passing night.
“It starts with taking away the run,” Carey said. “Once you do that, (their offense) becomes one-dimensional. When you stop the run, they have to throw it. You can recognize what’s coming.”
The Huskies started fast with two scores in the first 3:10 of the game.
NIU took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in eight plays and 2:18 with Turner scoring on a six-yard run on the jet sweep. Freshman Christian Hagan, playing in his first game, kicked the extra point for a 7-0 NIU lead. When Josh Orne’s kickoff was not picked up by Ball State, NIU’s Jamaal Payton recovered for the Huskies on the 18. Four plays later, Stingily ran for nine yards and a touchdown on fourth and NIU led 14-0.
Ball State’s offense finally took the field and the Cardinals responded, taking eight plays and 3:10 to go 65 yards. Jahwan Edwards scored on a one-yard run and BSU pulled to within 14-7 after Scott Secor’s PAT kick.
The two teams traded punts on the next six possessions until Ball State started a drive on their own 25-yard line with 8:27 to play in the half. They drove to the NIU 38-yard line, where quarterback Jack Milas found Jordan Williams wide open down the right sideline for the game-tying touchdown.
After the score, it was back to the field position/punting game for the Huskies and Cardinals for the remainder of the half.
NIU plays its final home game of the season Tuesday, Nov. 11, when the Huskies host to Toledo at Huskie Stadium. NIU will honor 19 seniors prior to the game.
Tuesday is also Veterans Day, which means it’s Military Appreciation Night. All former and current members of the military are admitted for $14.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.