2:05 PM ET, November 1, 2003
Huskie Stadium, Dekalb, IL
DEKALB, Ill. -- The defense followed up a terrible performance with one of its best. Michael Turner kept finding the end zone and Northern Illinois got back to winning.
Turner was stopped here, but Ball State had litte other success.
A letdown? Not a chance.
Turner had three touchdowns and ran for 126 yards in Northern Illinois' (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) 48-23 victory over Ball State on Saturday.
The win came a week after Northern Illinois (8-1, 4-1 Mid-American Conference) dropped its first game of the season, a devastating loss to Bowling Green that dimmed their bowl hopes and a shot at the MAC title.
"We had a lot of the air let out of the balloon last week. It's a difficult thing," coach Joe Novak said. "It's a test. If you're 3-4 and lose, it's one thing. I was curious. I was hopeful our kids would respond."
They did, and everyone was involved.
Quarterback Josh Haldi ran for two scores and threw for two more as Northern Illinois forced five Ball State turnovers -- including three in a 27-point second quarter highlighted by Turner's 18-yard touchdown run and 31-yard TD reception.
Turner, who entered the game as the nation's third leading rusher, topped 100 yards for the 18th time in his career and had 104 yards rushing by halftime. He also had 52 yards receiving.
"They ran the ball where they wanted to and when they wanted to," Ball State coach Brady Hoke said. "You can't turn the ball over like that. I lost count of them after three."
The Huskies shut down Ball State (4-5, 3-2) a week after their worst outing of the year on defense when they allowed 634 yards. Northern Illinois picked off two of Talmadge Hill's passes and forced two fumbles.
Each turnover in the first half was costly.
Lionel Hickenbottom's first interception of the season set up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Haldi to tight end Pat Raleigh.
On Ball State's next possession, the Cardinals faced third-and-5 when Hill rolled out to his right under pressure and threw it right at linebacker Brian Atkinson, who picked it off.
The Huskies scored 12 plays later when Haldi scrambled out of the pocket and ran 10 yards for a score and a 27-7 lead.
With 37 seconds left in the first half, Leonard Cooksey knocked the ball out of the hands of running back Blair Scott. Ray Smith recovered and returned it 17 yards to the Ball State 31.
Two plays later, Turner caught a screen pass and darted up the right sideline to give the Huskies a 34-7 halftime lead.
"We gave them some," Hill said. "When you turn the ball over that many times, you're not really giving yourself a chance to win."
Hill was 9-of-18 passes for 78 yards with two interceptions and added 99 yards rushing on eight carries before being replaced in the third quarter by Andy Roesch. The two interceptions matched his total for the season.
Roesch led the Cardinals to a pair of scoring drives in the fourth quarter, and was 15-of-22 for 168 yards with two TDs and an interception.
Northern Illinois made certain Turner was involved early and often after he was held to just 17 carries in the loss to Bowling Green. Turner ran it six straight times to open the game and had 39 yards rushing on the scoring drive.
"We knew the whole week that we had a chance to run the ball well," Turner said. "I knew from watching film that running the football would be our main focus."
The Huskies finally pulled Turner from the game early in the third quarter -- though his backup was every bit as effective. A.J. Harris rushed for a career-high 106 yards with one touchdown.
"I think last week a lot of guys were frustrated. It was real big. It jolted the team a little bit and we didn't look back," Haldi said.
Seven wins would be good enough to get most teams into a bowl game, but it likely won't be for Northern Illinois.
The loss to Bowling Green put the Huskies one game back in the MAC West with three games to play. The MAC only has two tie-ins to bowl games -- meaning Northern Illinois could finish the season with one loss and still be left out of the postseason if Bowling Green goes on to win the division over the Huskies.
"We still have to go out there and do our job and put the pressure on people, but I think we are (a bowl team)," Novak said. "We'll seen what happens to us. But people before us have been slighted in the conference. And I don't like it."