Huskies leave Bronze Stalk battle empty-handed

Waylee’s career day unable to overcome 21-point Cardinals comeback.


Courtesy of Amber Pietz

Ball State University third-year outside linebacker Sidney Houston Jr. flips NIU freshman running back Jaiden Credle Saturday at Scheumann Stadium. Houston had seven total tackles during the game. (Amber Pietz | Ball State Daily News)

MUNCIE, Ind. – The Bronze Stalk Trophy remained in Muncie after NIU (1-4, 0-1 MAC) left Scheumann Stadium on Saturday with a 44-38 defeat at the hands of arch-rivals, the Ball State University Cardinals (2-3, 1-1 MAC).

Head coach Thomas Hammock said the Huskies’ woes can be attributed to a lack of execution.

“We didn’t make plays, and that’s what it comes down to,” Hammock said. “We had guys in position to make plays, and we just didn’t make the plays we needed, especially on third down.”

After giving up just seven points in the first half, the Huskie defense faltered in the second half as it allowed 31 points to force overtime.

“We (the defense) started off pretty fast,” sixth-year senior linebacker Kyle Pugh said. “(The) first two quarters, we played pretty solid and then we started to have mental errors in the second half.”

Saturday’s game marked the 50th meeting of the Huskies and Cardinals in the all-time series. NIU held a 25-22-2 advantage over BSU in the all-time series.

NIU entered the Mid-American Conference matchup with three consecutive losses under its belt. The Huskies fell to the University of Tulsa on Sept. 10 (38-35), Vanderbilt University on Sept. 17 (38-28) and the University of Kentucky on Sept. 24 (31-23).

The previous matchup between NIU and the arch-rivals ended with a game-winning field goal that allowed NIU to reclaim the Bronze Stalk after a 30-29 victory.

NIU opens MAC play shorthanded

Redshirt senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi was unavailable for the Huskies’ game on Saturday. NIU’s starting passer was inactive for the second game in a row after sustaining a non-contact leg injury during the Vanderbilt game on Sept. 17.

Lombardi wasn’t the only Huskie unable to contribute Saturday. NIU entered the game without much of the firepower it had entering the season. Offensive starters such as redshirt junior left tackle Marques Cox and senior wide receiver Shemar Thornton did not take the field against Ball State. NIU was also short two of its top cornerbacks, sophomore Eric Rogers and junior Jordan Gandy.

In Lombardi’s absence, the Huskies continued to employ the same two-quarterback system they used in last week’s loss to Kentucky. Redshirt freshman quarterback Ethan Hampton served as NIU’s primary signal-caller during the game. The second-year passer completed 17-of-29 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns while also throwing one interception.

“He’s (Hampton) gotten better,” Hammock said. “Obviously, he’d love to have some plays back from today. He’s getting a better understanding of what we need to do.”

Sophomore quarterback Justin Lynch was also involved in NIU’s offensive gameplan thanks to his mobility. The recent transfer from Temple University ran 15 times for 89 yards.

The starting running backs from each side of the rivalry ended the day with hat tricks, or three scores. NIU sophomore running back Harrison Waylee carried the ball 30 times for a career-high 230 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore tailback had touchdown runs of one yard, 52 yards and 68 yards.

Waylee says his career-best performance doesn’t mean much without being able to leave with a victory on top of it.

“I wanted to win,” Waylee said. “It’s cool having my best career-high, but I want to come out on top with the win next time.”

On Ball State’s side, sophomore running back Carson Steele netted 77 yards on the ground. The second-year back scored twice in the second half and had the game-winner in overtime.

Huskies pile points on early

Junior wide receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz earned NIU its first score of the game in the late stages of the first quarter. The transfer from Illinois State University took a designed reverse play to the right corner of BSU’s end zone for his fourth touchdown of the season.

The Huskies made another splash three plays into the Cardinals’ next offensive drive. Sophomore safety C.J. Brown picked off BSU redshirt junior quarterback John Paddock, returning it 29 yards.

NIU earned a three-and-out with the short field position. Redshirt junior kicker John Richardson missed his first field goal attempt of the game from 29 yards.

The Huskies opened the second quarter with a long scoring play. Waylee broke off on a 52-yard touchdown run to put NIU up 14-0.

Ball State muffed the ensuing kickoff which was recovered by NIU sophomore running back/wide receiver Billy Dozier. BSU redshirt junior cornerback Tyler “Red” Potts forced a fumble from Hampton three plays later. The Cardinals recovered to return possession to the BSU offense.

The Cardinals marched down to the edge of NIU’s red zone before facing fourth and long. BSU graduate kicker Ben VonGunten’s 37-yard attempt went wide right to keep the Cardinals scoreless.

NIU took advantage with another score to extend its lead. Hampton found Rutkiewicz downfield for a 31-yard touchdown connection, putting the Huskies ahead 21-0.

BSU received a much-needed offensive spark after freshman tight end Tanner Koziol hauled in a contested catch from Paddock for a 30-yard gain on the drive’s second play. Redshirt freshman tight end Brady Hunt netted the Cardinal’s first score of the game six plays later with a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

The Huskies responded with a drive that extended to the Ball State 10-yard line. Richardson redeemed his earlier miss with a 28-yard field goal to finish off the drive.

Ball State finished out the half with a final scoring push that resulted in Paddock’s second interception. Redshirt freshman safety Devin Lafayette picked off Paddock on the final play of the half.

Redshirt freshman safety Devin Lafayette intercepts Ball State University redshirt junior quarterback John Paddock on the final play of the first half of NIU’s game against the Cardinals on Saturday at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana. (Amber Pietz | Ball State Daily News)

Cardinals chirp back

NIU’s opening drive of the second-half was short-lived after Hampton threw an interception that was returned to the Huskies’ four-yard line. BSU cashed in four plays later with a rushing touchdown by sophomore running back Carson Steele.

Waylee did his best impression of Clyde Edwards-Helaire the following drive. The running back leaped over the line for a one-yard rushing score, his second of the game, to make it a 31-14 ball game in the third.

BSU responded with a touchdown of its own as Steele logged his second touchdown of the game in the final second of the third quarter.

Paddock commanded a nine-play, 87-yard drive in the middle of the fourth quarter to bring about a one-score game. Paddock found Koziol in the end zone and delivered a 17-yard passing touchdown. The drive was extended by a defensive pass interference penalty against the Huskies one play prior.

Waylee burst through a hole in the Cardinals’ defense for his second touchdown run of 50 or more yards. He burned the BSU defense with a 68-yard dash down the left side of the field to help put NIU up 38-28 with just under seven minutes to play.

Ball State forces OT in Muncie

Ball State later drove down the field to make it a seven-point game with 3:59 remaining on the clock. A quick three-and-out by the Huskies gave the Cardinals time to chip their way into NIU territory and tie matters up with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Koziol.

NIU registered one final drive to potentially repeat last year’s ending against BSU with a game-winning field goal. Instead, the Huskies lost steam near midfield and ended regulation with three straight incomplete passes and a one-yard rush.

Both drives of the game’s first overtime period resulted in both teams’ kickers missing field goals. Richardson missed from 24 yards out on NIU’s first possession. VonGunten missed his 43-yard game-winning attempt.

Ball State began on offense to open the second overtime period. Paddock quickly found senior wide receiver Jayshon Jackson on back-to-back plays to put BSU at first and goal on NIU’s four-yard line. Steele earned a hat trick three plays later with his third scoring run of the game. BSU’s two-point attempt was unsuccessful.

Needing only a touchdown and an extra point, the Huskies were only able to muster two yards on their first two downs. An 11-yard sack against Hampton forced NIU into fourth and very long, needing a first down to stay alive. Hampton’s pass to fifth-year senior wide receiver Cole Tucker was broken up on the sideline, giving NIU its first loss in league play. NIU has lost its past four games and sits at the bottom of the MAC West division.

“We let it hurt for the ride home,” Pugh said. “Let everybody do what they got to do tonight and it’s on to Toledo next week.”

The Huskies will return home next week for the 115th Homecoming game. NIU will host the University of Toledo Rockets at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium.