BY CORY STACE | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
Ball State on the Board First
Ball State elected to put its defense on the field first on Saturday versus the Northern Illinois Huskies, in response to Ball State’s struggles with early turnovers in games this season.
After the Cardinals’ defense held up strong on the first Huskies’ possession, forcing a missed 43-yard field goal by Christian Hagan, the Cardinals’ offense got a crack at putting Ball State on top early.
But Ball State’s offense stalled near the goal line, with a negative 1-yard rush and two incomplete passes on the Northern Illinois 8-yard line. Although Ball State couldn’t punch it in the end zone, Morgan Hagee was able to connect from 26 yards to give Ball State a 3-0 lead over Northern Illinois early.
Ball State Mistake Near the Goal Line
After a Northern Illinois’ field goal tied the game, the Cardinals’ offense continued to move the ball relatively easy down the field on their third possession.
A 27-yard connection from Riley Neal to KeVonn Mabon set up Ball State later in the drive with a 1st and goal opportunity on the Northern Illinois 9-yard line.
Ball State decided to reach into its bag of tricks, with a pitch from Neal to wide receiver Corey Lacanaria around the end to the right side.
Lacanaria was pressured heavily by Huskies’ linebacker Sean Folliard, who stayed at home on the reverse, forcing Lacanaria to throw the football off of his back foot with the pressure in his face.
The back-foot throw came up short to a wide open Sam Brunner in the end zone for Ball State, but instead, the ball was picked off by Northern Illinois’ safety Brandon Mayes at the 3-yard line.
Turnover Comes Back to Bite the Cardinals
Lacanaria’s interception landed the Huskies’ offense with tough field position to start the drive at their 3-yard line.
It didn’t take long for Northern Illinois to make use of the turnover, as Anthony Maddie hooked up with Kenny Golladay on a 17-yard reception to give Northern Illinois breathing room on offense.
The Huskies were set up at their own 25-yard line when Maddie, an ex-wide receiver, gashed the Cardinals’ defense with a quarterback draw up the middle, breaking four Ball State tackles and running for a 75-yard touchdown and a Northern Illinois seven point lead.
Maddie not only showed off his speed on the run, but he also showed off the power breaking tackles from both Marc Walton and Martez Hester of the Cardinals as they converged trying to bring the quarterback down at the 50-yard line.
A Back and Forth Half Ends with Northern Illinois
The Cardinals fought back from the turnover and a 10-3 lead for Northern Illinois with two touchdowns on the next two offensive possessions to give Ball State a 17-10 lead.
Although Ball State seemed to be clicking offensively, Northern Illinois’ defense held the Cardinals in the closing minutes of the first half, allowing the Huskies to build up a 24-17 lead going into halftime.
The scores resulted from a rushing attack of Maddie and running back Joel Bouagnon, who capped off a nine play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown to give the Huskies momentum ending into the locker room.
Although the score didn’t read Ball State’s way, the first half seemed to be won by the Cardinals if not for some timely turnovers and stops by the Northern Illinois defense.
Defenses Owning the Second Half
The first six possessions of the second half were won by the defense with Ball State’s forcing two turnovers and one punt, while Northern Illinois’ forcing a turnover on downs and two punts.
Ball State’s corner Marc Walton had been targeted all day in his matchup with one of the most talented wide receivers in the MAC in the Huskies’ Golladay, but Walton finally was able to capitalize on the targets with a interception in the end zone to halt Northern Illinois from taking a two possession lead with 4:50 remaining in the third quarter.
Northern Illinois’ defense forced a turnover on downs as Ball State went for a fourth-and-3 opportunity with 1:41 left in the third quarter keeping the score at 24-17 going into the fourth quarter.
Northern Illinois Sealing the Win
Early in the fourth, Ball State was able to tie the game up at 24 with the third rushing touchdown of the day for running back James Gilbert, who ended the game with 119 yards on the ground.
With the MAC rivalry game coming down to the wire, the Huskies had a response on the very next possession. As they had all day, the Huskies went back to the jump ball with tall wide receivers on the outside defended by man-to-man coverage.
Golladay, who collected 13 receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns, leaped over Ball State cornerback Marc Walton on a 22-yard game winning strike to the end zone, putting the Huskies up 31-24 with 11:07 left in the fourth quarter.
Although plenty of time remained, the Golladay touchdown grab proved to be the game winner as neither offense was able to produce enough to get into the end zone for the remainder of the game.
Ball State came away with yet another tough loss to Northern Illinois, making it the eighth consecutive year Ball State has fallen in the Bronze Stalk Battle.