4 takeaways from Ball State’s MAC-opening win over Northern Illinois

<p>Florida Atlantic's offense gets ready to snap the ball in the third quarter Sept. 14, 2019, at Scheumann Stadium. The Owls went on to defeat the Cardinals, 41-31. <strong>Paul Kihn, DN</strong></p>

Florida Atlantic's offense gets ready to snap the ball in the third quarter Sept. 14, 2019, at Scheumann Stadium. The Owls went on to defeat the Cardinals, 41-31. Paul Kihn, DN

Ball State’s (2-3, 1-0 MAC) goal coming into the week was to get to 1-0 by the end of Saturday. The Cardinals did just that as they defeated Northern Illinois (1-4, 0-1 MAC) in comeback fashion, 27-20. Here’s a look at some key aspects from the game.

Tale of 2 halves

After one quarter, Ball State was down, 14-0. After trading field goals, the Cardinals went into halftime facing a 17-3 deficit. The switch Ball State needed to flip must have been in the locker room as it scored 24 unanswered points to start the second half.

The defense is what really stepped up for the Cardinals. Following a pair of touchdowns in the Huskies’ first two drives, their offense was shut down. In Northern Illinois’ first eight possessions of the second half, Ball State forced four three-and-outs and four turnovers. By the time the Huskies could get back on the board with a field goal late in the fourth quarter, it was too late.

Feed the big man

With rain continuously falling, redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt found it rough sailing throwing the football. On the first play of the game, Plitt threw an interception to Antonio Jones-Davis. Plitt also fumbled the ball three times and completed only four passes all day.

While the passing game struggled, the Cardinals resorted to hand the ball off to 226-pound running back Caleb Huntley, and it worked. Huntley recorded season-highs in carries (35), rushing yards (157) and touchdowns (two).

Junior running back Caleb Huntley shakes off Fordham defenders in Ball State's home opener at Scheumann Stadium Sept. 7, 2019. The Cardinals beat the Rams, 57-29. Jacob Musselman, DN

Could have been worse

While taking down Northern Illinois is an accomplishment in itself, Ball State could have won by much more than seven points.

Senior kicker Ryan Rimmler had a busy day, making four field goals. However, three of them were from 25 yards or closer, meaning the Cardinals failed to reach the end zone after making their way inside the Huskies’ 15-yard line.

Ball State was fortunate that Rimmler was able to convert when called upon, but it could have put the game away sooner if it scored more touchdowns in the red zone.

11 years in the making

Ball State and Northern Illinois started playing for the Bronze Stalk Trophy in 2008. The Cardinals won the inaugural trophy game but didn’t win it again for the next decade.

To make Saturday’s task look tougher for the Cardinals, the Huskies are the defending Mid-American Conference Champions. Ball State brainwashed itself of that fact at halftime and outscored Northern Illinois by 21 points in the last 30 minutes.

This victory to open conference play was the second straight MAC-opening win for the Cardinals. They took down Kent State last year with a season-high 52 points.

Now that the trophy is back in Muncie, Ball State will be looking to play keep away for another decade.

Contact Zach Piatt with comments at zapiatt@bsu.edu or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.


More from The Daily

This Week's Digital Issue

Loading Recent Classifieds...