MUNCIE, Ind. — Ball State wore down visiting Northern Illinois for a 31-25 win Wednesday night, keeping the rivalry trophy in Muncie. The Cardinals won 27-20 at NIU last season.
“No matter what would’ve happened in any previous play or previous quarter or half, we just needed to go play, battle, fight, scratch and claw, and the guys did that.”
Perhaps the biggest play of the game came in the second quarter with Ball State trailing 14-7 and Northern Illinois threatening. Amechi Uzodinma II picked off a pass and ran it 71 yards for a touchdown to tie the game heading into halftime.
Caleb Huntley, one of the nation’s top performers last week when he rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns versus Eastern Michigan, took over after having only 19 yards at halftime. Huntley carried six times on the Cardinals’ go-ahead drive, scoring a 3-yard touchdown with 5:12 left on the third-quarter clock. Ball State would lead for the rest of the game.
“The defense kept battling and battling and battling, and then we got that pick six,” Neu said. “You could just feel the momentum shift there on the sideline. You could just feel the added punch that we needed.”
Huntley, who entered the week third in the nation in yards per game, continued his dominance on the ground with 103 yards and a score against Northern Illinois. It was his seventh consecutive effort of 100 yards or more, which set a school record.
Ball State (2-1, 2-1 Mid-American Conference) extended its lead to 28-14 after Yo’Heinz Tyler made two big plays. Tyler took a Drew Plitt pass 64 yards to the Northern Illinois 13 and then was rewarded with the touchdown moments later.
Northern Illinois answered with a scoring drive, but Ball State tacked on a 33-yard field goal from Jack Knight with 2:20 left in the game to lead 31-22.
The Huskies added a late field goal and tried an onside kick in the final moments, but Ball State was able to ice the game and retain the rivalry trophy.
“It means a lot,” senior safety Bryce Cosby said. “Before the game, I was telling the guys about 2017. We got beat 63-17. It was hard as a freshman … I can remember that game at Northern Illinois like it was yesterday.
“It was freezing cold. We got beat 63-17 and it was a true gut punch just getting on the bus after that … I am fortunate to be part of this rivalry, and am I glad we have gone on to win the past two years.”
Antwan Davis scored a touchdown early in the game and added a 2-point conversion after the Tyler touchdown. Tyler and Justin Hall combined to catch 14 of Ball State’s 17 completed passes. The Cardinals amassed 201 yards on the ground, with Tye Evans gaining 60 yards while spelling Huntley.
Northern Illinois (0-3, 0-3 MAC) was led by Tyrice Richie, who caught 11 passes for 108 yards.
Huskies quarterback Ross Bowers threw for 300 yards, but the defensive touchdown scored on the interception swung the game in favor of the Cardinals.
Cosby led the Cardinals with 14 tackles, while Jaylin Thomas had 13. Uzodinma also had two pass breakups in addition to the game-changing interception.
Ball State will have 10 days until its next game, a Saturday, Nov. 28 contest at Toledo. That will be a noon kickoff on ESPN3 and WLBC 104.1 FM.