Poor second half costs NIU in its MAC opener against Ball State

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DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Ball State scored 27 consecutive points over the final three quarters to defeat the Northern Illinois University Huskies, 27-20 and claim the Bronze Stalk Trophy for the first time in 11 years.

Ball State took advantage of NIU penalties, turnovers and special teams miscues, and successfully handled weather that went from steady rain and wind to a downpour at times to improve to 2-3 on the season, 1-0 in the Mid-American Conference. The Huskies fell to 1-4, 0-1 with their fourth straight loss.

“We’re fighting to play four quarters of football,” said NIU Head Coach Thomas Hammock. “We came out strong tonight [in the first half], but we needed to play 60 minutes and we couldn’t get it done. We will continue to fight to find consistency. It was a tale of two halves. We have to execute the plays that are called and that’s on me.”

Tailback Tre Harbison ran for 146 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns, with 123 of his rushing yards and both touchdowns in the first half. Quarterback Ross Bowers completed 21-of-43 passes for 241 yards, hitting Daniel Crawford and Tyrice Richie five times each for 85 and 30 yards, respectively. Cole Tucker and Mitchell Brinkman each caught four passes with Tucker’s four catches going for 69 yards and Brinkman totaling 47 yards.

The Huskies gained 388 yards to Ball State’s 269, but NIU was called for 12 penalties for 111 yards. NIU turned the ball over three times with all three turnovers in the second half.

Antonio Jones-Davis made a career-high 17 tackles and intercepted Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt on the first play of the game for his first career pickoff to set up NIU’s first touchdown. Jones-Davis also recorded his first sack of the season and tallied 1.5 tackles for loss.

NIU scored two first quarter touchdowns en route to a 17-3 halftime lead. The Huskies scored on their opening drive for the first time this year after Jones-Davis’ interception gave NIU the ball on the BSU 24-yard line. Three plays later, Harbison scored on a 19-yard rush to give NIU an early 7-0 lead.

The Huskies doubled their advantage on their next possession with a 10-play, 77-yard drive. Harbison went the final 28 yards for the touchdown, with Bowers hitting Richie and Brinkman for pick-ups of 12 and 20 yards on the drive.

Ball State got on the scoreboard at the start of the second quarter on a 24-yard field goal by Ryan Rimmler after a 14-play, 70-yard drive.

NIU added to its lead with a 24-yard field goal by John Richardson to close out the first half scoring as a driving rain began to fall.

The second half was all Ball State. Poor field position plagued the Huskies in the third quarter when four of their six possessions started inside the 12-yard line. The Cardinals scored on a 25-yard field goal to close out an eight-play, 37-yard drive at the 6:44 mark.

Harbison fumbled at the NIU eight-yard line and Ball State’s Caleb Huntley, who totaled 157 yards on 35 carries in the game, scored from the three to bring BSU within five points. A Plitt to Justin Hall pass narrowed the gap to three points, 17-14 with 6:01 to play.

NIU’s next possession ended in a fumble and its next with a punt from the end zone, where a kick catch interference call gave BSU the ball on the NIU 26-yard line. The Huskie defense limited Ball State to a game-tying field goal by Rimmler, who was good from 47 yards.

Ball State took the lead for good on its first drive of the fourth quarter, which lasted just one play when Huntley burst through the middle for 45 yards and a score to give Ball State the lead for good.

The teams traded field goals, with Rimmler making his fourth and final with 7:27 to play from 22 yards out. Richardson added a 38-yard field goal with 2:45 to play to bring the Huskies within seven points, but NIU could not get the ball back with enough time for a game-tying touchdown.

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