BY MAX DENARI | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
The Bronze Stalk Trophy and the MAC-opener were on the line Saturday afternoon as the Ball State Cardinals took on the Northern Illinois Huskies. The Bronze Stalk has not resided in Muncie since 2008, as NIU looked to make it eight straight seasons retaining the hardware. It was an overcast and drizzly kick off, and from the get go it was a tug of war between both teams.
It started off with Ball State’s Morgan Hagee hitting a 26-yard field goal at the 10:26 mark. Christian Hagan leveled it up for the Huskies 3-3 with a deep 41-yard field goal exactly two minutes later.
Northern Illinois’ quarterback Anthony Maddie scored an incredible 75-yard run, in combination with the extra point from Hagan, to put the Huskies up 10-3 1:08 in the first quarter. Running back James Gilbert and the Cardinals quickly answered back as Gilbert scored on an 11-yard rush, and Hagee hit the following extra point at the end of the first quarter.
The atmosphere remained much the same in the second quarter as was in the first. Again, it was Gilbert scoring, this time on a 3-yard rush, plus the Hagee PAT to set Ball State into the lead once again, 17-10, with 13:47 left on the clock.
Wide receiver Kenny Golladay snagged a 14-yard touchdown pass from Maddie to respond just over two minutes later, and the game was tied at 17. The Huskies remained in stride — and with help from running back Joel Bouagnon’s 2-yard touchdown run — ultimately put NIU up 24-17 with 1:26 left before halftime.
With a scoreless third quarter, Gilbert opened up the scoring in the fourth quarter with his second, 3-yard touchdown of the game with 12:16 left. This touchdown was Gilbert’s third of the game and his sixth of the season and knotted the score at 24.
Golladay’s 22-yard dagger from Maddie put the Huskies up en route to the 31-24 final. The MAC opener for both teams was hotly contested with five lead changes and four ties.
Ball State: Post Game
Even in the loss, positivity for Ball State can be drawn from Gilbert and his performance with three touchdowns and now 14 in his career. Gilbert rushed for 100-plus yards for the second time this season and now has a total of 1,057 yards for his career.
“James is always ready to play,” Ball State head coach Mike Neu said. “The look in James’ eye, he is just one of those guys that is hungry. He loves to have the ball in his hands. No matter when you call his number, you know he is going to be ready to run hard.”
On top of Gilbert’s performances, wide receiver KeVonn Mabon finished the game with 99 yards and wide receiver Damon Hazelton Jr. finished with 90 yards, both season highs.
Defensively, the Cardinals did have some plays and opportunities come their way, even through the tough play. Safety Corey Hall and corner back Josh Miller led the Cardinals in tackles with 11. This marked career highs for both defensive backs. Production also came from corner back Marc Walton who grabbed his second interception of the season nearing the end of the third quarter.
“Those guys competed,” Neu said when asked about his team’s defense. “That is not the issue. They competed their tails off. We will look at the tape and we will make sure we drill it in practice and make corrections.”
Northern Illinois: Post Game
Maddie threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns, while Golladay brought in 194 receiving yards. Maddie and Bouagnon accounted for 313 rushing yards together with both scoring a touchdown.
“We knew they had a two-headed monster at running back, and that their quarterback is a good runner,” Neu said. “We knew that going in and it was going to be a really important game from a tackling standpoint. We missed some tackles.”
“Our guys have to know, these games are going to be a battle for four quarters,” Neu said. “No matter what, we have to make the plays if we want an opportunity to win.”
That is the mentality the Cardinals need to maintain as they travel north to Central Michigan (3-2) Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Mich.