Reminiscing on his freshman season in 2017, Ball State Football senior safety Bryce Cosby said he remembers his first game against Northern Illinois like it was yesterday.
Never having a losing season in his high school program, Cosby boarded the Cardinals’ team bus in DeKalb, Illinois, following a 63-17 defeat in which he described as a “gut punch” on a cold November night.
Fast forward three years later. While the chilly, windy conditions Wednesday night in Muncie were similar to that of the Cardinals’ loss three years ago, Cosby’s presence played a key role in giving Ball State (2-1 MAC) the edge over Northern Illinois (0-3 MAC), defeating the Huskies 31-25.
Cosby finished Wednesday’s game with 14 tackles, leading the Cardinals. With the win, the Cardinals keep the Bronze Stalk Trophy for the second consecutive season.
“It’s safe to say, anytime we see [Northern Illinois], it’s personal,” Cosby said. “I’m fortunate to be a part of this rivalry, and I’m glad to be on the winning end of it these past two years.”
Prior to Wednesday, head coach Mike Neu made it clear to his players not to underestimate Northern Illinois, despite the team’s struggles over the first two games of its 2020 season. After falling behind 7-0 early in the first quarter, Ball State’s offense couldn’t click when it needed to most.
That changed with a mere 26 seconds left in the first quarter. Aiming to find the end zone, a career-long 46-yard run from redshirt sophomore running back Tye Evans gave Ball State a glimpse of momentum. The drive ended with a 5-yard pass from redshirt senior quarterback Drew Plitt to graduate student wide receiver Antwan Davis, tying the game early in the second quarter.
Evans finished Wednesday’s win with 60 rushing yards on five carries.
“A lot of attention has been on Caleb Huntley and rightfully so, but we’ve got some other young men,” Neu said. “Tye has worked really hard here in our program. He had a really good night.”
A 2-yard run from Huskies’ junior tailback Erin Collins gave Northern Illinois a 14-7 lead with 11:39 left in the second quarter. Afterward, both teams struggled to find field goal territory — let alone the end zone — until the half’s final five minutes.
On a 1st and 10, Northern Illinois redshirt senior quarterback Ross Bowers passed the Huskies’ momentum into Ball State’s hands with 4:29 left in the second quarter. A 71-yard run from junior cornerback A.J. Uzodinma marked the Cardinals’ first interception return for a touchdown since 2010, tying the game at 14 apiece.
“I just wanted to make a play for the team and get points on the board — [that] was really the main goal there,” Uzodinma said. “I’m trying to do what I can help this team to win. Hopefully, moving forward, I can make plays like I did and end on a good stick with a win.”
Uzodinma said he wasn’t expecting to find the ball heading into the play, but the opportunity naturally came to him. Along with the interception, he finished with two tackles in Wednesday’s win.
“When we had to gain momentum with that Pick 6 — we went into halftime, and the ballgame was tied, our guys came out,” Neu said. “They had some huge stops there — when you look at the third quarter and what we were able to do there defensively — it was awesome.”
As Neu mentioned, Ball State’s defensive momentum continued into the third quarter. Just over five minutes into the half, graduate student defensive lineman Christian Agyemang and redshirt senior linebacker Jaylin Thomas sacked Bowers — the first of the season for either player.
While the Cardinals’ defense continued capitalizing as the half progressed, a 3-yard run from senior running back Caleb Huntley gave Ball State its first lead of the game 20-14. Huntley finished with 105 rushing yards on the night, marking the seventh straight game he has exceeded 100+ rushing yards — a Ball State record.
Taking its six-point lead into the final quarter, both Ball State’s offense and defense did what it needed to extend the Cardinals’ lead. In their first drive of the fourth quarter, a 64-yard run from junior wide receiver Yo’ Heinz Tyler, followed by a 7-yard pass from Plitt and a two-point conversion from Plitt to Davis gave the Cardinals a 28-14 lead.
“[Yo’ Heinz] has got a size advantage on those guys,” Neu said. “Drew did a good job on giving him a hand signal there — he went in the end zone and used his catch radius to deliver a big touchdown. Yo’ Heinz has really come a long way.”
With the graduation of former wide receiver Riley Miller following Ball State’s 2019 season, Yo’ Heinz has become a go-to target for Plitt, who said his size is what makes him special. Wednesday marked Tyler's second touchdown in as many games.
“He’s strong, he’s physical and that’s what I love about him,” Plitt said. “He’s a big target — he always goes out and makes a play. I can trust him with anything.”
Adding some late insurance, Ball State’s final points of the game came from a 33-yard field goal off redshirt freshman kicker Jack Knight with 2:20 left in the game.
Following Neu’s postgame television interview, he and his teammates went over to the Pride of Mid-America Marching Band to sing Ball State’s fight song in its postgame celebration. With a limited number of fans at Scheumann Stadium this season due to COVID-19 concerns, Neu said he is thankful for the energy the band brings on game nights.
“They create a good atmosphere,” Neu said. “I know they go through a lot of hard work on their end, so I really wanted to go say thanks to Dr. [Caroline] Hand and let them know we appreciate them.”
Moving forward, Ball State returns to action Saturday, Nov. 28 against Toledo (2-1 MAC). Transitioning to Saturday games for the second half of its 2020 regular season, Neu said he appreciates the extra time off, giving players a chance to focus and heal any minor injuries.
“Every week’s a new opponent,” Neu said. “We’ve got to play good football. We’ve still got plenty of things that we need to clean up here on our end. Once we sang our fight song in the locker room and celebrated, we left each other saying, ‘Hey, it’s onto the next one, man.”
Contact Connor Smith with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @cnsmith_19.