DeKALB — Mistakes and heavy rainfall washed away a halftime lead for the NIU football team, surrendering the Bronze Stalk trophy to the Ball State University Cardinals in a 27-20 loss Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
NIU held a 17-3 lead at halftime, but a pair of lost fumbles and three punts in the third quarter opened the door for the Cardinals to beat NIU for the first time since 2008.
Head Coach Thomas Hammock put the blame on himself for the loss, and said he needs to better prepare his players in order to compete in a complete game.
“I have to continue getting our players locked into playing four quarters of football,” Hammock said. “It’s nobody else’s job but mine. I’m going to look adversity in the face, and I can tell you we will continue to fight to find the consistency we need to be a good football team.”
The Huskies committed three turnovers and 12 penalties against the Cardinals. Tre Harbison, Huskie redshirt junior running back, who rushed for a season-high 146 yards, said it’s on everyone to execute better moving forward.
“It was just bad execution,” Harbison said. “We don’t blame or point fingers at anyone. It’s on the whole team to execute better.”
NIU held Drew Plitt, Ball State redshirt junior quarterback, to four completions and 34 yards all game. Ball State countered the stout pass defense with 157 rushing yards from junior running back Caleb Huntley.
Redshirt senior linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis led NIU with 17 tackles, including a sack. Despite his standout performance, Jones-Davis said he won’t be lingering on the game for very long.
“It happened,” Jones-Davis said. “It’s over with. We just have to get better, finish games and prepare every week to play four quarters.
Jones-Davis put NIU on a roll early with an interception on the first play of the game, setting up a 19-yard touchdown run for Harbison. Harbison scored a 28-yard touchdown on the Huskies' next drive to take a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter.
Ball State scored its first points of the game in the second quarter with a 23-yard field goal by senior kicker Ryan Rimmler. John Richardson, Huskie redshirt first-year kicker, responded with his own 24-yard kick late in the first half.
The Cardinals drove deep into NIU territory late in the first half with rain starting to pour. Slick conditions helped junior defensive end Matt Lorbeck force a fumble that the Huskies recovered to keep it 17-3 at halftime.
After a Rimmler field goal, redshirt senior running back Marcus Jones saw a kickoff go through his hands and out of bounds deep in the shadow of NIU’s endzone. Harbison fumbled two plays later, and Ball State took over.
Huntley’s three-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion made it 17-14, with NIU holding a slight advantage.
Ball State tied the game on a 43-yard kick by Rimmler before Huntley raced by the Huskies defense at the start of the fourth quarter for a 45-yard touchdown run, taking a 24-17 lead.
Wet conditions made life difficult for senior quarterback Ross Bowers to hit his receivers. Bowers only completed 21 passes on 43 attempts, en route to 241 passing yards.
Bowers saw a pass in the fourth quarter bounce off a pair of Ball State defenders and into the hands of sophomore cornerback Amechi Uzodinma II for an interception. The Cardinals capitalized with a 22-yard field goal to make it 27-17.
Bowers tried to redeem himself late with completions to Daniel Crawford, redshirt senior tight end, and Cole Tucker, redshirt sophomore wide receiver, to put NIU in Ball State territory. A 38-yard field goal by Richardson made it 27-20 with NIU needing to regain possession.
The Huskies couldn’t recover an onside kick attempt, but a three-and-out by Ball State gave NIU the ball back with 22 seconds left. Bowers completed two passes, but ultimately time ran out on the Huskies, and they fell 27-20.
NIU’s record falls to 1-4, and the Huskies will look to snap a four-game losing skid in their first road Mid-American Conference game against the Ohio University Bobcats.
Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.