The game was all but over. It, like the season, had been decided long ago. All that was left was for the clock to give up its final few seconds and for the final whistle to sound on Ball State's eighth loss, a 59-21 blowout at the hands of Northern Illinois on Saturday.
With nothing left to play for, MiQuale Lewis jogged into the huddle. It was Senior Day, and the Cardinals' most recognizable senior had yet to make an appearance. Lewis suffered a separated shoulder a week before at Buffalo, but coach Stan Parrish had promised Lewis wouldn't spend the last game of his career on the bench. Parrish said it would be a tragedy if Lewis didn't get to play, so to the field the senior running back went.
Lewis was nothing more than a decoy, lining up as a wide receiver as Kelly Page handed off to Ray Winkler, another senior running back. While Winkler ran for a couple of yards, the running back with the second most yards in Ball State history blocked.
Like the rest of the Cardinals, Lewis didn't go out with a bang. There was no strong finish to the season, no three-game winning streak to ride into the offseason. Just disappointment.
"You have to give them credit," safety Sean Baker said. "But then again, we didn't play the way we needed to, the way we're capable. We just didn't come ready to play."
The Cardinals were limited to 268 total yards of offense, 214 of which came after the Huskies took a 35-7 lead into halftime. Page attempted to start a third-quarter comeback, leading Ball State to a pair of touchdowns coming out of the break, but after a failed onside kick attempt, it was all Northern Illinois. Page, who hadn't played any significant time since Homecoming, completed 7-of-13 passes for 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was limited by a knee injury, which Parrish said will require surgery now that the season is over.
"He's going to have it at least scoped this week," he said. "He's been playing with it for about a month, which has really limited what he can do."
The Cardinals' problems weren't limited to offense. Northern Illinois tied a school record with three blocked punts and scored the most points against Ball State since Auburn scored 63 in 2005.
"They're obviously a very good team, but you can't make it easy for them," Parrish said. "They're the best team in this league, and to have a chance you have to play your A-game. We certainly didn't play any A-game."
With the season over, Parrish can begin his offseason evaluation. During the process, he said he will talk to other people in the industry whose opinions he respects.
"I'll probably lean on [them] a little bit to see where we're at," he said. "How good our talent is, how good we're coaching them, the whole deal. You owe that to the program. You owe that to the players in the program."