Victory over NIU would be 'long time coming' for Ball State seniors
Ball State's senior class doesn't know what it feels like.
Three times they've matched up with Mid-American Conference rival Northern Illinois, and three times they've watched the Huskies celebrate with the Bronze Stalk Trophy.
The seniors will get their final shot Oct. 1, as Ball State (3-1) hosts Northern Illinois (0-4) in both teams' MAC opener.
Northern Illinois vs. Ball State
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Date: Oct. 1
Place: Scheumann Stadium (Muncie, Ind.)
Watch: American Sports Network/ESPN3
The Huskies have beaten the Cardinals seven straight times dating back to 2009, and lead the all-time series 21-20-2.
"It's definitely a long time coming," senior wide receiver KeVonn Mabon said. "We owe Northern [Illinois] a loss, because we haven't beat them in seven years. They're 0-4, but they're not an 0-4 team if you watch them on film. They've just had a couple bad breaks."
Northern Illinois has struggled all season, but particularly in the absence of starting quarterback Drew Hare. Hare was injured in a Week 2 loss to South Florida and has been out ever since.
Huskies' coach Rod Carey named fifth-year senior Anthony Maddie — listed as a wide receiver on the depth chart — as the starter for this weekend's game. Maddie led the team in a second-half rally in a 28-23 loss to Western Illinois of the FCS. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Graham has also played at quarterback, but Carey said he'd like to stick with Maddie against the Cardinals.
Regardless of who takes snaps for Northern Illinois, Ball State head coach Mike Neu said he doesn't expect the Huskies to change their game plan.
"Drew [Hare] didn't play last week and they had over 500 yards of offense, so they're not going to change who they are from a scheme standpoint," Neu said. "He was their starter, and one of the best players in our conference. It all starts for them with the run. ... They've got some playmakers."
Northern Illinois is averaging 186.5 yards per game on the ground, led by redshirt junior Jordan Huff and senior Joel Bouagnon with over 200 yards apiece on the season. Redshirt senior receiver Kenny Golladay has also contributed 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns to go along with 24 catches, 272 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns.
All three of those players scored a touchdown in last year's meeting with the Cardinals, a 59-41 shootout win for the Huskies on their home field. Senior Ball State safety Martez Hester expects this matchup to be yet another high-intensity matchup.
"It's a physical game every time," he said. "A lot of times it has come down to one or two possessions here and there. From the start of the game to right when it ends, it's always a battle."
This game also has major implications for the rest of the conference schedule. Despite the fact the Huskies are winless, Neu said he knows there is no sense of panic from the team who has won the MAC West Division six seasons in a row.
As for the seniors, they realize winning the Bronze Stalk trophy is the first step in playing for other trophies down the road. Mabon said a win over the Huskies this year would be huge for him and the rest of the senior class.
"Every time we've played them, I've thought about holding that trophy," he said. "Hopefully this year I can make that a reality."
Ball State and Northern Illinois kick off at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 1.