DeKALB – It didn’t matter who was under center for the Huskies on Thursday night.
Northern Illinois scored a season-best 35 points in the first half and never looked back, defeating Ball State, 63-17, in front of a Huskie Stadium crowd of 6,603.
Marcus Childers handled most of the work at quarterback, completing 10 of 22 passes for 141 yards and four touchdowns in his fifth straight career start.
The Huskies led, 14-7, when things fell apart for Ball State (2-8, 0-6). After the Huskies forced a Cardinals’ three-and-out, Trayshon Foster blocked Nathan Snyder’s punt, and Jackson Abresch returned it 13 yards to the end zone, boosting NIU’s lead to 21-7.
In the fourth quarter, Jauan Wesley blocked a Ball State punt that Abresch recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, pushing the score to its final of 63-17.
After the Huskies (7-3, 5-1 Mid-American Conference) forced a Ball State three-and-out to begin the game, Childers capped a 12-play, 55-yard drive with a 4-yard shovel pass to Shane Wimann to give NIU an early 7-0 lead.
NIU junior quarterback Ryan Graham also took a few snaps on the same drive, which marked his first time back since suffering a shoulder injury during his Week 1 start against Boston College. Graham didn’t attempt a pass but picked up 23 rushing yards on two carries.
Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt found his way through NIU’s defense on the Cardinals’ next drive. He completed three straight passes, finishing the drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Riley Miller to tie the game at 7.
It didn’t take long for NIU tailback Jordan Huff’s name to be called in his first game back from an ankle injury. Huff, who hadn’t played since Oct. 14 at Buffalo, had a couple of short gains on NIU’s next drive, but the senior found the end zone on a 24-yard pass from Childers. For the season, Huff leads NIU in rushing with 507 yards on 91 carries.
NIU’s offense scored two more touchdowns in the second quarter, and the Huskies entered halftime with a 35-7 advantage. The Huskies’ previous season-high first half point total was 31 – Sept. 9 against Eastern Illinois and Oct. 21 at Bowling Green.
Defensive end Sutton Smith made his 21st tackle for a loss this season on Ball State’s final drive of the first half to become NIU’s leader in tackles for a loss in a single season. He added another tackle behind the line of scrimmage in the second half. The Huskie defense finished with 18 tackles for loss.
The Huskies host Western Michigan (6-4, 4-2) in their last home game of the season Wednesday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN2.