DeKALB – It didn’t matter who was behind 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 workload at quarterback, completing 10 of 22 passes for 141 yards and four touchdowns in his fifth straight start.
The Huskies led 14-7 when things fell apart for Ball State. After NIU forced a three-and-out, Trayshon Foster blocked Nathan Snyder’s punt and Jackson Abresch returned it 13 yards to the end zone, boosting the Huskies’ lead to 21-7.
In the fourth quarter, Jauan Wesley blocked a Ball State punt that Abresch recovered in the end zone for the game’s final touchdown.
After the Huskies (7-3, 5-1 MAC) 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 QB Ryan Graham also took a few snaps on the drive, his first time back since suffering a shoulder injury
during his Week 1 start against Boston College on Sept. 1.
Graham didn’t attempt a pass against Ball State (2-8, 0-6), 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. 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. Their previous season-high first-half point total was 31, on Sept. 9 against Eastern Illinois and on Oct. 21 at Bowling Green.
Defensive end Sutton Smith picked up his 21st tackle for a loss of the season on Ball State’s final drive of the first half, which made him NIU’s record-holder in tackles for a loss in a season. He added another tackle for loss in the second half, while the Huskies finished with 18 tackles for loss as a team.
NIU’s defense had more fun in the third quarter. Linebacker Jawuan Johnson intercepted Plitt, and then lateraled to teammate Shawun Lurry, who picked up 10 yards before lateraling it back to Johnson, who was eventually taken down at the Ball State 35.
On the next play, Huff ran 35 yards untouched into the end zone to put NIU up 49-14. Huff finished with six carries for 57 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Santacaterina got his turn in the fourth quarter. He completed a 70-yard heave to Wesley for a 56-17 lead with 9:52 left.
NIU outgained the Cardinals 433-245, and committed just one penalty.
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 it will be broadcast on ESPN2.