Ball State (5-5, 3-3 MAC) won’t return to the Mid-American Conference Championship this season, but there’s still a larger message and something to play for.
“Greatness,” redshirt fifth-year inside linebacker Jaylin Thomas said. “We're a squad that really, we're going to dial in, we're going to attack the film room to the best of our ability, just to be the best we can be. We’re just moving on, (we’re) going to attack film and attack practice, (and) just take it one step at a time.”
Ball State lost to Northern Illinois (7-3, 5-1 MAC) 30-29 Nov. 11.
With one minute and 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Ball State took a 29-27 lead after a 48-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Jacob Lewis.
However, the Huskies received the ball and marched 62 yards down the field in 10 plays. Redshirt sophomore kicker John Richardson capped off the drive with a 32-yard field goal with no time remaining.
Redshirt fifth-year quarterback Drew Plitt threw for 126 yards on 11-of-26 passing. His lone touchdown came to junior wide receiver Jayshon Jackson on a 15-yard pass. Redshirt fifth-year wide receiver Justin Hall totaled 106 scrimmage yards and two rushing touchdowns, while freshman running back Carson Steele added 114 yards on 21 carries.
The Cardinals went 1-of-10 on third downs, and head coach Mike Neu gave credit to the Huskies defense, but also felt there were some self-inflicted wounds.
“Obviously, I don't want to take anything away from them,” Neu said. “They did a great job, to be one of 10 on third down, you have to give them credit, but at the same time, we didn't execute well enough. We had some opportunities and we didn't execute well enough, and those numbers certainly are not winning numbers. Obviously, you'd like to think when you win the turnover margin you have a great opportunity to win the game, but when you look down and you see that you're one for 10 on third down, that's a little bit of an equalizer there.”
Thomas led the Cardinals with 15 tackles (12 assisted), and believes studying the film will help Ball State learn from its mistakes.
“From a technique standpoint, we could have done some things better, but the film will tell it all,” Thomas said, “I can't really pick and choose what exactly went wrong, just the film's going to tell it all for sure.”
Redshirt fifth-year safety Bryce Cosby and redshirt fifth-year inside linebacker Brandon Martin also recorded 10 tackles, while Martin also brought down an interception. Although he’s on the other side of the ball, fifth-year offensive lineman Curtis Blackwell has belief in the defense.
“We have all the trust in the world in our defense,” Blackwell said. “They've played great this season, they’re a great defense. They played well tonight. Like I said, it's never one play that ever gets you beat. You got to watch the film and then all three phases figure out where we could have been better and improve upon it for the following week.”
Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi completed 23-of-38 passes for 264 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt junior wide receiver Cole Tucker led the Huskies with six receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. Freshman running back Jay Ducker and redshirt senior running back Clint Ratkovich combined for 167 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
The loss officially eliminated the Cardinals from the MAC Championship, but they're still in the hunt for bowl eligibility. They must win at least one of their next two games to earn a bowl berth.
Ball State returns to Scheumann Stadium Nov. 17 against Central Michigan (6-4, 4-2 MAC) . Kickoff is 7 p.m.