MUNCIE, Indiana — Ball State erased a 21-point deficit, handing Northern Illinois a 44-38 loss in double overtime on Saturday.
The Huskies (1-4, 0-1) dropped its Mid-American Conference opener, as well as the Bronze talk trophy, to the Cardinals (2-3, 1-1). The Huskies showed flashes of being the conference favorite and the defending league champs but faltered in the second half.
Close calls at the end
Ball State’s Carson Steele scored from 1-yard out to put the Cardinals ahead in the second overtime after NIU led 21-0 early and 31-14 with 8:38 left in the third quarter.
The Huskies were sacked and had a pass broken up at the chains to close the game out.
Rutkiewicz secured two grabs in the first overtime session for 23 yards a Lynch loss of 4 yards brought junior kicker John Richardson onto the field. His chip-shot 24-yarder hooked right.
The Cardinals nearly gave the ball back on its ensuing possession by putting the ball on the ground on their second play. The Cardinals couldn’t bury their 43-yarder to leave the first overtime scoreless.
Stout early D
The trio of sophomore defensive tackle Devonte O’Malley, sophomore safety C.J. Brown and redshirt freshmen Devin Lafayette were difference makers in the first half. Brown soared for a pick that he returned to the Ball State 16 for 29 yards.
O’Malley logged a 12-yard sack on the Ball State 38 with 13 seconds left in the first period. He took down quarterback John Paddock on 3rd-and-7 as the Huskies held a 7-0 advantage.
Lafayette recorded an interception in the end zone on a Hail-Mary heave to keep the Huskies in front at the break 24-7. He tallied the second most tackles on the team with nine.
But Ball State scored on its final four possessions in the regulation and five of its six possession in the second half
An encouraging emergence developing in the NIU backfield is Justin Lynch, a Temple transfer.
The younger brother of NIU legend Jordan Lynch, an all-American and Heisman finalist made his debut against the University of Kentucky with a score and 21 yards on seven carries. He lined up in the wildcat formation. He was a perpetual threat running the ball after taking the direct snap out of shotgun.
Lynch gained 93 yards on 15 carries for the Huskies. As he rotated in for Hampton under center it added a wrinkle that kept the Cardinals relatively on their heels. He broke off his longest run down the sideline before being directed out of bounds mid-stiff arm for 24 yards.
Waylee, Rutkiewicz early and often
Out of the gate, the Huskies made a concerted push to deploy sophomore Harrison Waylee as a workhorse back. He finished with 29 carries for 228 yards and three scores. He had an 8.0 average.
He crossed the goal line from point-blank range and with long surges. His 52-yard score came at the outset of the second frame when his team needed one yard on third down to move the chains and he burst through a hole up to the middle to take it to the house.
On third-and-3 with 6:43 left, his clutch patience on a 68-yard score put the Huskies on top by 10.
Rutkiewicz reeled in six snags for 89 yards.
With 4:49 left in the second quarter, Redshirt freshman play caller Ethan Hampton threw a 31-yard dart down the middle to junior wideout Kacper Rutkiewicz in the back of the end zone in stride for a 21-0 lead.
Rutkiewicz, junior slot receiver, put the Huskies ahead with the opening score on a 13-yard reverse with 5:19 left in the initial quarter. The sequence developed with Hampton with a two-handed touch toss to senior Cole Tucker, as he was moving to the left Rutkiewicz came around for the handoff and crossed the plane in the opposite corner.
Building an early lead
The Huskies’ defense was on point in the opening half. It came into Saturday last in the nation among Football Bowl Subdivision teams with a 56.4% third down conversion defense. On third-and-20 and the Huskies made their first stop. The Huskies started the game with five straight third-down halts. Ball State finished six of 15 on third down.
On the ensuing possession, the Huskies came up with a second third-down stop as Brown picked off a pass. He had a near-interception against No. 8 Kentucky last week that could have turned that game.
This gave NIU the ball on their opponent’s 16. After sophomore Harrison Waylee picked up one yard on two attempts, an incompletion led to a 29-yard field goal by junior John Richardson.
With a 14-0 lead, the Huskies sent a kickoff near the 22-yard line that the Cardinals let bounce and the trajectory carried back toward where it came from. Sophomore Billy Dozier gathered it on the turf amid the chaos at the 25. The Huskies squandered good field position again with a holding penalty and strip-sack on Hampton for a Cardinals’ takeaway.
The Huskies’ final drive of the second frame ended as Tucker nearly pulled in a 10-yard score but could only get one hand on it. Three more points were tacked on from this nine-play drive that went 65 yards and took up 2:17.