In their second and last midweek MACtion game of the 2023 season, the Ball State Cardinals (3-7, 2-4 MAC) faced the Northern Illinois Huskies (4-5, 3-2 MAC) in the battle for the Bronze stalk.
Over a year ago, Ball State pulled out a 44-38 double overtime win against the Huskies. While this year’s matchup didn’t show off the same offensive fireworks as last year, it was still a wild finish.
No quit in the offense
With seven losses and a next to zero chance of making a bowl game in 2023, many people outside of the program assumed that the Cardinals had nothing left to play for this week. It was going to be interesting to see how Ball State started the game, and if they still had a sense of urgency.
After a seven-play 65-yard touchdown drive to start the game, it’s safe to say the Ball State’s offense was ready to go.
The Huskies won the toss and deferred their choice to the second half, giving Ball State the ball. The drive would start on the Cardinal 35-yard-line after a 28-yard return from junior Malcolm Gillie. On the first play from scrimmage, redshirt junior running back Marquez Cooper took a handoff 21 yards to get to the NIU side of the field. After sophomore quarterback Kiael Kelly completed a pass to senior wide receiver Ahmad Edwards for another first down the very next play, Ball State was in business.
Ball State notched another 21-yard gain a few plays later, this time in the form of a Kelly pass to sophomore wide receiver Qian Magwood. After two plays that didn’t go anywhere, Ball State was faced with a third goal from the 6-yard-line.
After dropping back to pass, Kelly couldn’t find anybody open. He scrambled to his left, found an opening, and scampered in for his fifth rushing touchdown of the season. Going 2-for-2 for 31 yards with his rushing touchdown, Kelly showed off how dangerous he can be in the air and on the ground.
Kelly and Kozial keep consistent
After that first drive which saw Kelly make big gains in the passing game, the Cardinals relied on his arm.
Through his first three starts, Kelly attempted 16 passes against Toledo and Central Michigan, and 19 against Bowling Green. Tuesday, he attempted 12 passes in the first half alone. He finished the game with a career-high 25 pass attempts, completing 15 of them for 115 (a career high) yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore tight-end Tanner Koziol was absent from the Ball State passing game in the first half. Last week versus Bowling Green, Koziol had zero catches on just one target. Tuesday was more of the same, as he just had one target in the first 30 minutes.
With the Cardinals down 17-10 in the 4th quarter, Kelly turned to the pre-season All-MAC selection in the 4th quarter to try and get the offense going. All of Koziol’s catches came in the last 15 minutes.
The first two receptions came early in the fourth, as Ball State tried to work their way out of being pinned deep in their own territory. Kozial caught balls of 11 and five yards to finally get in the stat sheet.
Koziol’s biggest catch of the night came with 3:47 left in regulation. After an NIU fumble in their own territory, the Cardinals faced a 3rd and goal on the Huskie 6-yard line. Kelly stood patient in the pocket and found Koziol just in front of the goal line. The equalizer also happened to be Kelly’s first career touchdown pass. Koziol finished with 3 catches for 22 yards and his touchdown reception.
Jackson Courville redemption
Last week’s game against Bowling Green ended with freshman kicker Jackson Courville coming just short on a 52-yard field goal attempt. This week, those struggles continued.
In the first quarter, Ball State recovered a fumble to give them a short field. After the offense stalled out, Courville couldn’t convert another long field goal, this one from 50 yards. At the start of the 4th, Courville battled a heavy wind for his kick that blew wide-right from 37 yards out.
After yet another Huskie fumble in their own territory, the Cardinals chewed the clock on offense to give Courville yet another opportunity with five seconds left. This time, the game rested on his shoulders.
The snap, the hold, and the kick were perfect, and Courville drilled it right down the middle to give Ball State the win. Courville went 2-for-4 on field goals and made both of his extra-point attempts in the victory.
Ball State resumes action Nov. 18 at home versus Kent State with kickoff scheduled for 2 p.m.