Northern Michigan’s possession of the Miner’s Cup was short lived.
After NMU defeated Tech last season, the trophy, given annually to the winner of the NMU versus Michigan Tech football game, was given back to the Huskies last Thursday, as MTU defeated the Wildcats 47-21.
A record crowd of of 8,672 was on hand, much in part, due to the game being televised nationally on CBS College Sports Network, as well as regionally on Fox Sports Detroit.
Losing by 26 points wasn’t what Northern head coach Bernie Anderson had planned for the first nationally televised NMU football game in more than three decades, but he said the added excitement surrounding the game was good for the ‘Cats (1-2, 1-2 GLIAC).
“I think it’s a great thrill, great excitement. It’s why you play college football, to have an opportunity to be in front of a big crowd and be on TV,” Anderson said.
“We’re just not strong enough to stay in every game yet, but that’s part of the building process,” he added.
The Wildcats were in the game early, heading into halftime with a 14-13 lead on the Huskies. Two big first half plays through the air gave the ‘Cats the lead, and the NMU defense held strong through two quarters. In the first quarter, junior quarterback Ben Hempel found senior receiver Dan Elmore for an 18-yard touchdown. After an MTU touchdown and two Tech field goals, Hempel connected again with Elmore on an 81-yard completion for a touchdown, giving the ‘Cats momentum heading into the second half.
In the third quarter, though, the Wildcats struggled to sustain a drive, let alone find the endzone. Tech’s offense had no problems putting points on the board facing a tired NMU defense. For the game, Michigan Tech led Northern in time of possession by nearly10 minutes.
“We tried to keep the ball (on offense) more – that was the only thing we could try to do in the second half, is keep the ball, and that was the difference (in the game),” Anderson said. “We couldn’t keep the ball and keep our defense off the field.”
Michigan Tech sophomore running back Phil Milbrath ran all over the’Cats defense in the third quarter, finding the endzone three times, including a 70-yard scamper near the end of the quarter. Milbrath tacked on another score in the fourth quarter after an NMU touchdown pass from redshirt-freshman quarterback Carter Kopach to Zach Nichols.
Kopach was later picked off by Michigan Tech cornerback Robert Hayes, and Hayes returned the pick for a score, giving the game its final score of 47-21.
“We have to put it behind us,” said Elmore, who finished the day with three catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. “It’s a tough and emotional loss, but good teams have to overcome adversity and move on.”
For a team that has had little problems moving the ball on offense over the years, whether it be in the passing game or on the ground with junior running back Mark Bossuah, the 2008 NMU offense has struggled to find a rhythm in its last two games. It’s no coincidence the games have ended with Wildcat losses.
The play at quarterback is just one position that’s lacked rhythm. Hempel leads the conference in passing efficiency through three games with a rating of 195.22, but is still feeling the effects of a shoulder injury sustained in the season opener.
In an attempt to build depth, the NMU offense has rotated quarterbacks in each game this season – and last week’s game with Tech was no exception. Anderson said red-shirt freshman Carter Kopach saw most of the second half snaps for the offense in the hope that the youngster would make big plays.
“We weren’t getting enough points on the board,” Anderson said about the quarterback change. “We believe (Kopach) has the stronger arm, so we went with the stronger arm.
“We knew at that point we would have to throw the football so we went with the strong arm, and I thought he gave us a pretty good spark,” he added.
Kopach led the NMU offense to its only second-half scoring drive when he completed a 26-yard touchdown pass to junior wideout Zach Nichols. Later in the quarter, Kopach made a young quarterback mistake when he threw the interception late in the fourth that put the game out of reach.
Hempel finished the game 7-15 passing for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Kopach ended 13-25 with 132 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Whoever becomes signal caller for the rest of the season knows they will be counted on to make plays for the offense.
“We all have to go with the decisions that the coaches make,” Kopach said, “I just have to go out there and make plays.”
In the Bulldog’s house
This weekend, the Wildcat team will need to be ready to take on a tough Ferris State team. It will be the second road game of the year for the ‘Cats.
Letting go of the Tech loss will be the first step in becoming prepared for a Ferris team that sits second in the conference with a 2-1 record in the GLIAC, 3-1 overall.
“Tech isn’t a bad team, so we don’t have to get discouraged about that, but basically we just have to keep our heads up and look at the mistakes,” junior linebacker Nathan Yelk said. “We have seven games left so it’s a long season, its only two losses, the rivalry hurts and everything but we have to look at the bigger picture.”
Yelk finished the Tech game with 12 tackles to lead a defense that gave up 470 yards, 228 of those coming on the ground. The defense is something the ‘Cats will need to shore up against a Ferris team that ranks fourth in rushing offense, averaging 200 yards a game.
“We’re a young team that needs to know how to tackle a good back and we’ll just work on the tackling,” Anderson said. “We worked tackling drills and we need to continue them.”
NMU has not beat Ferris since its 2003 meeting, and lost last season 31-13.
The game is set for kickoff at Top Taggart Field at 2 p.m. Saturday.