Ball State completes epic comeback to reclaim Bronze Stalk trophy
After trailing 21-0, Cardinals win a thriller in overtime
Credit Source: Ball State University Athletics
MUNCIE, Ind. – Down by as much as 21 and trailing 24-7 heading into the locker room, Ball State flipped a switch in the second half. The Cardinals scored 38 points in the second half to force overtime and then clinched the victory on a Carson Steele touchdown and a defensive stand to take the result Saturday, 44-38.
With the win, Ball State (2-3, 1-1 Mid-American Conference) reclaimed the Bronze Stalk trophy from Northern Illinois (1-4, 0-1) in another classic MAC West battle at Scheumann Stadium.
“Never a doubt, right? My hat goes off to every player on our team for believing at halftime, coming out in the second half with a positive, can-do attitude and saying to each other in the locker room that we’re going to go out there and figure out a way to get it done,” head coach Mike Neu said. “I’m so proud of the group and I’m so proud of the coaches. We challenged the guys the halftime that we needed to play better in the second half. It’s an awesome win against a good football team.
“It’s great to be able to bring the Bronze Stalk trophy back here in Muncie, Indiana, and it was great to see the excitement and jubilation in the locker room. Those scenes are priceless. I live for that. That’s one of the reasons we all do this, to be able to share those special moments with your team that has worked so hard to figure out a way to get it done. Thank you to the fans for hanging in there with us. I certainly wouldn’t have blamed them if they made the decision to head out at halftime. I’m just proud of our guys for getting it done.”
To say things looked bleak in the first half would be an understatement. The Cardinals were only able to muster one touchdown on their six first-half drives that also included a pair of turnovers, two punts and a missed field goal. Meanwhile, the Huskies scored on four of their six drives in the opening two quarters, including three touchdowns and a chip-shot field goal to make it 24-7 at the break.
Ball State came roaring out of the locker room as Jaquan Amos picked off a pass on the third play of the second half and returned it all the way to the four-yard line. The Cardinals then scored when Steele crossed the line to make it a 10-point game.
An eight-play, 75-yard drive followed for NIU and gave the Huskies a 31-14 lead.
Steele reached the end zone for a second time to close out the third quarter, 31-21, in favor of the road team.
The Cardinals carried that momentum into the fourth quarter and scored on all three of their possessions through a 35-yard field goal by Ben VonGunten and a pair of touchdown connections between John Paddock and Tanner Koziol, including a score with 36 seconds left that capped a 10-play, 72-yard drive in 1:26 to tie the game back up and sent it to overtime all squared at 38-38.
After missed kicks by both teams in the first overtime, Ball State got on the board in the second overtime through a 1-yard rush by Steele, his third touchdown of the game. The Cardinals failed their two-point conversion, making it 44-38.
Ball State’s defense stood tall in the final possession, highlighted by an 11-yard sack by Cole Pearce on third-and-8 to force a challenging fourth-and-19.
Tyler ‘Red’ Potts then broke up a pass and, as the ball hit the turf, sent the Cardinals in jubilation as they ran over to the other sideline and reclaimed the annual rivalry game trophy.
Ball State’s 21-point comeback marked the third-largest comeback in program history, trailing only a 22-point comeback vs. Eastern Michigan on Nov. 12, 2005 and a 27-point come-from-behind win vs. Toledo on Oct. 9, 1993 that was quarterbacked by none other than head coach Mike Neu.
“It just shows the never-say-die attitude and believing in each other through thick and thin. The last thing I said to the team this morning was that the best family will win today and the best team will win today. I’m convinced we were the best family today because we stuck by each other’s side through adversity. Whenever there was a lull moment, nobody blinked on the sideline. I credit all the players and all the staff because the best family won today.”
Paddock led the way offensively after throwing 40-of-58 for 403 yards and three touchdowns. It’s the most yards thrown by a Cardinal since Drew Plitt had 439 vs. Fordham on Sept. 7, 2019 and the eight-most passing yards in program history.
Jayshon Jackson had his second-straight game of at least 10 catches for 100-plus yards as he racked up 116 yards on 10 grabs. Koziol hauled in seven catches for 89 yards and two scores, bringing his total to a team-high five on the year. Yo’Heinz Tyler added seven catches for 73 yards and Brady Hunt contributed six receptions for 82 yards and a score.
Steele had 77 yards on the ground and three touchdowns to lead the rushing attack.
Defensively, Amos had a team-high 12 tackles and an interception, while Jordan Riley added 11. Malcolm Lee, Pearce and Potts had eight tackles each and combined for 3.0 tackles-for-loss, including 2.5 sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
NIU rushed for 332 yards, led by Harrison Waylee’s 230 and three scores.
Ball State improved to 8-2 all-time in overtime, which includes wins in each of its last four instances.
The Cardinals hit the road for their first league game away from home next weekend at Central Michigan before returning home to face UConn (Oct. 15) and Eastern Michigan (Oct. 22) for Homecoming.