“When it’s the third and longest and you miss 6 tackles on a guy you’ve been tackling all day, you can’t do that.” – Kyle Nystrom, head coach of the NMU, on a breakdown late in the game in defense
MARQUETTE – It seems every time Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech stick together on the football field, the Wildcats find a new way to fall short.
Late-game errors were what cost NMU this Saturday in the Superior Dome as the visiting Huskies won 21-14.
In the final five minutes, the ‘Cats (3-4, 1-2 GLIAC) threw a red zone interception, missed a 41-yard field goal that would have given them the lead, missed several tackles on a third down. run and have a broken cover that led to the winning touchdown with 18 seconds left.
The Huskies’ connection with quarterback Will Ark and wide receiver Jordan Janssen was powerful all day, but no play was bigger than their 31-yard connection for the game-winning score in the final minute that ensured Michigan Tech’s 11th consecutive Miners Cup victory.
“We destroy a blanket, we play without a man and other guys think we are playing in quarterbacks,” NMU coach Kyle Nystrom has spoken of his team’s defensive coverage on the game. “We don’t play quarterfinals.”
Setting up that score was a 12-meter run from MTU running back William Marano to the 3rd and 8th to extend the run with less than a minute to go. The Wildcats have missed a few tackles in this play, otherwise it would have taken them off the field and given them one last chance to win.
“You cannot let things get away from you” Nystrom said. “When you have chances to score, you have to score. When it’s the third and longest and you miss six tackles on a guy you’ve been tackling all day, you can’t do that, you have to get off the pitch.
Prior to last practice, Northern had two possessions inside the MTU’s 35-yard line to stand a chance of taking the lead. After landing a first down at 30, Cats quarterback Drake Davis threw a pass straight to MTU linebacker and Newberry High School graduate John Paramski for an interception.
An NMU sack by defensive linemen John McMullen and Edward Pierson pushed Tech back inside his 5-yard line to force a punt. Northern had the ball in the Huskies’ 28th with 2:43 left and a second chance to right the wrongs of the previous command. Hitting a first down would have set NMU up with the winning kick in the dying seconds, but three safe running plays led to Daniel Riser’s 41-yard field goal attempt with 1:47 left.
“What happened (on) the possession before?” “ Nystrom asked. “I said (to the offensive coaches) ‘You better have good ball safety here.’ Because I am not looking at another turnover here, and we are playing time.
“I don’t want to be stupid with the ball, because we went back down there and threw a pick. This stuff bites you, you have to learn from your mistakes. When you get a little conservative, there’s usually a reason for it. “
Riser’s kick sailed wide, giving Tech the ball with 1:42 remaining for the eventual winning order. The failed basket started the slide at the end of the game which ended with everything going wrong in the last practice, Nystrom said.
“It’s just human nature, it takes your breath away. “ Nystrom said. “Wouldn’t you rather go up three and play defense and get out of the game?” This is what I prefer to do, this is what they prefer to do, but we didn’t.
“You can’t fight and you can’t make it a one-possession game like we did. We’ve known about it all week, so we just need to get better. We’re not good enough to have these gasps and hurt ourselves. So we have to be good enough where this stuff is overcome. “
To start the game, the two teams traded punters. However, the Huskies offense suffered a jolt with a 32-yard pass from Ark to wide receiver Darius Willis at NMU 18 on their second possession. MTU finished the run scoring on an 8-yard touchdown grab by wide receiver Jordan Janssen about halfway through the first quarter. Northern kicked for a second straight possession, but forced another punt from Tech to reclaim the ball to his own 24.
NMU quarterback Drake Davis led the Wildcats on the field in a 76-yard seven-game drive, including a 47-yard third goal to wide receiver Wyatt Davis for the Huskies’ 13th. Drake kept the ball, hitting the 1, and punched it on the next piece. With Riser’s extra kick, the game was tied in the last minute of the period.
The second quarter includes errors from both teams, leaving it 7-7 at halftime.
The ‘Cats got the ball to start the second half and walked onto the pitch. NMU converted three thirds, and it paid off when Drake Davis found Wyatt Davis
in the end zone for a 42-yard strike to give NMU the lead for the first time with 9:47 left in the third.
Drake Davis finished 17 of 25 for 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Wyatt Davis caught five of his brother’s completed passes for 119 yards and that touchdown.
It’s safe to say that Nystrom feels great with the two of them there together.
“They give us a chance, they made games”, Nystrom said. “Wyatt (Davis) is a great story, we really brought him to Northern because of Drake (Davis). He had some health problems in high school… he’s a good athlete. He’s strong, he’s a big kid, he’s mean and tough, he doesn’t say much. But these two brothers, they know what the other is thinking without even speaking to each other.
The Wildcats defense forced another punt later in the third, and all the momentum was on their side with a 14-7 lead and the ball in midfield. Practice fell to a fourth and one at Tech 31, but a false start forced Northern to push it back.
Ark threw passes to move the Huskies down, finding Willis and tight end Jordan Dent to move the chains past midfielder late in the third quarter. Faced with a second and five in the 30th place from the Wildcats, Ark attempted to force a pass into the field and was intercepted by NMU defensive back Eddie McGee at the 3-yard line with 14:11 to go.
The poor field position did not help the already struggling NMU offense, and the resulting punt gave MTU a great field position at 30 North. The Huskies entered the red zone and found dirt with a 10-yard run by Ark to fourth base to tie the score with 9:11 remaining.
Both teams kicked once more, leading to the forgettable last five minutes for the Wildcats.
It’s hard to explain what continues to happen in this game every year for the ‘Cats, but a curse may not be that. For Nystrom, retaining veteran players for crucial late-game games was what he had in mind.
“Retention is always critical at this university and in this football program,” Nystrom said. “When I have this experience, I have to keep them here. I have to do whatever I can to keep them in that helmet and take five years out of it.
“A third of the schools play with seventh grade guys, and we have this idea here of playing four (years) and leaving. Uh-uh, it’s not college football.
“I need to get a better experience here, so when you get to these situations that you ask me about, you win the coin.”
The schedule won’t be any easier for the Wildcats. Dealing with Grand Valley State, Ferris State and Saginaw Valley State is a challenge, and it will be a tell-tale sign of the “Cats” reaction to a heart-wrenching rivalry game.
Travis Nelson can be contacted by email at tnelson @ miningjournal. report.