It's not about how you start, it's about how you finish

"Never a doubt, right?" Mike Neu joked in his postgame press conference. 

The head coach of Ball State Football was in good spirits, his team had just defeated Northern Illinois (1-4, 0-1 MAC) in double overtime to win the Bronze Stalk Trophy and complete the third-largest comeback in program history.

Despite his jubilant attitude after the game, his complexion was the complete opposite as the Cardinals marched into the locker room down 24-7 at halftime.

But Neu prides himself on the 'never-say-die mentality' of Ball State, and when asked about the win following the theme that it's not about how you start, "it's about how you finish," he completed the sentence.

"We earned a victory today," Neu said. "A hard-fought, never quit victory today against the defending Mid-American Conference (MAC) Champions who were picked to finish number one in the preseason. We won't forget that we were picked to finish last."

In their first MAC game of the 2022 season, the Cardinals fell to Western Michigan (1-3, 1-0 MAC); a team they beat 42-41 in their last overtime game in 2018.

One could guess that Ball State is fond of overtime, going 7-2 in extra frames heading into its Oct. 1 home tilt against the Huskies. One of those two overtime losses came at Scheumann Stadium against Northern Illinois in 2004 when the Cardinals fell 38-31. 

The script was different at Scheumann Stadium in Ball State’s 10th overtime finale.

Freshman tight end Tanner Koziol was helped off the field twice with injury against the Huskies but still finished out the game, catching seven passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns including the game-tying score in the embers of the fourth quarter. 

It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.

Redshirt junior quarterback John Paddock, in just his fifth collegiate start, threw two interceptions in the first half while the Cardinal offense scored just seven points to Northern Illinois’ 24. Paddock finished the game with 403 passing yards and three touchdowns on 40 completions of 58 attempts as Ball State outscored the Huskies 31-14 in the second half to send the game to overtime.

It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.

The Cardinal defense gave up 24 points in the first half and allowed a 63-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Redshirt junior linebacker Cole Pearce sacked Northern Illinois’ Ethan Hampton for an 11-yard loss on third down in double overtime before graduate student safety Jaquan Amos broke up the fourth-down pass to seal the comeback victory. 

It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.

“It means that, when the game's on the line, the big-time players make big-time plays in big-time moments,” Paddock said.

Paddock, who gave a speech that left nothing to be said in pregame according to Neu, has become a pillar of mentality for Ball State in his first season as the starting quarterback.

"Clayton [Coll] and John, they're always firing us up and telling us to never give up," Pearce said. "Especially at halftime there when we were down. They really talked to us and said 'if you don't have any belief that we're gonna come back and win this game don't even come out.' We really always had that fire in us throughout the whole game, we came back and knew we were going to win that game."

Coming into the game 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the MAC, Amos said the Cardinals will focus on the finish of the MAC campaign, not the start.

“This is definitely a turning point for this team,” Amos said. “Moving forward, that momentum, we [are] going to take that momentum and keep going."

Ball State heads north to Mount Pleasant, Michigan next to face Central Michigan Oct. 8 at 3:30 p.m.

Contact Daniel Kehn with comments at or on Twitter @daniel_kehn.


More from The Daily

This Week's Digital Issue

Loading Recent Classifieds...