‘Cards’ deal Wildcats another heartbreaker at homecoming

drew.kochanny

The Northern Michigan football team will be looking to turn things around when it faces Wayne State University (4-2, 3-2) Saturday at noon in Detroit. After a 1-4 start to the 2008 campaign, a win could be what the ‘Cats need in order to finish the season strongly.

After starting the season with a win against Northwood, the Wildcats are coming off their fourth straight loss last week at the hands of Saginaw Valley State, in a 38-21 contest.

According to last week’s starting quarterback Carter Kopach, since the season-opening win, mistakes, penalties and mishaps have frustrated the NMU team.

“Basically we need to start trusting each other,” Kopach, a redshirt freshman, said. “I think we need to start having more intense practices. It’s not the coaches’ fault, it’s our fault.”

When the ‘Cats face Wayne State, they will be going against one of the country’s best backs in preseason, All-American running back Joique Bell.

Despite early struggles, Bell has 472 yards with five scores through six games.

NMU’s main start in the backfield is 2007 All-Conference junior running back, Mark Bossuah.

Bossuah was hampered by an injury toward the end of last month, and has rushed for 445 yards and four scores in five games.

With five games to go, Bossuah is 285 yards from his 2007 pace, when he finished with 1,285 yards.

Bossuah will be a key player heading into the matchup with Kopach, a young quarterback. The Wayne State game will only be Kopach’s third collegiate game.

On the year, Kopach has thrown for 511 yards, with four scores and four interceptions. Last week, the young single-caller couldn’t pick up a win, throwing for just 85 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“I think he’s doing the very best he can,” head coach Bernie Anderson said. “He’s a very good leader, he works hard and he’s going to get better and better.”

With five games remaining, the Wildcats’ opponents contain a combined record of 18-11 and NMU still has to face Grand Valley, the nation’s No. 1 team in the nation.

In favor of the ‘Cards’

Saginaw Valley State came into its matchup versus the Wildcats with a 2-2 record and fans were curious as to how the Cardinals would respond to facing former head coach and current defensive coordinator Randy Awrey.

The Cardinals left the Superior Dome with a 38-21 win and confidence heading into the thicker part of the schedule.

For the first time all season Northern headed into halftime without the lead, with Saginaw taking advantage of Northern mistakes and penalties early.

Saginaw took the lead in the first quarter on a Brandon Williams run, putting the Cardinals up 7-0. Later, Northern freshman punter, Garrett Peck, was forced out of the back of the endzone for a safety on a first- quarter punt, making the score 9-0 at the end of the first.

The ‘Cats lightened the lead on a three-yard pass from Kopach to sophomore wideout Dustin Brancheau.

Saginaw was the beneficiary of the extra point when it was blocked and returned the other way, making it an 11-6 game.

“You can’t give a good football team 12 points because of special teams — cause of not smart football,” Anderson said. “We need to think a little more out there and not create the penalties. Penalties hurt us bad.”

The lead extended to 17-6 on a touchdown by Saginaw 30 seconds before the half.

The Wildcats began to settle down in the second half after another touchdown by the Cardinals stretched the lead to 24-6.

Two quick scores from NMU tightened the lead to three.

“In the second half, we got in the locker room and calmed everyone down,” Kopach said. “We came out ready to go but it wasn’t enough again.”

A late touchdown run and an interception return by Saginaw put the game out of reach for the ‘Cats giving the game its final score, 38-21.

Baby steps

Late mistakes have been an Achilles heel for the Wildcats so far this season. The Wildcats are ranked fifth in the conference with a +1 turnover margin, taking away 10, while giving up nine.

It has been late in games, though, when Northern has seemed to fall apart.

NMU has given up 112 second half points, while only scoring 63.

Kopach, who started for the first time this season on Saturday, has thrown an interception in three consecutive games with under two minutes to go, each of which has been returned for a touchdown on gains of 80, 75 and 27 yards.

“I don’t care who you are or how young you are, if you’re a young quarterback there’s going to be a learning curve,” Anderson said.

Currently starting for the Wildcats are eight players with sophomore status or lower, with 17 of 22 being below a senior in class.

Additionally, the Wildcats rank first in the conference in penalties through five games with 35, totaling 326 yards on the year and an average of 65.2 yards a game in mistakes.

“We just got to play smarter,” junior linebacker Nathan Yelk said. “I don’t know if we just get stage fright out there or what, but you know we get them in third-and-longs and just that one more play we need to execute. I really don’t have an answer for it, but we need to find one.”

In one of the toughest conferences in Division-II, the GLIAC boasts four teams ranked regionally, including the No. 1 team in the country.

In such a conference, mistake-free football becomes a demand for winning. A conference championship may be out of reach for the ‘Cats, but the season can still be salvaged if players keep attitudes high, the team’s starting quarterback said.

“Now it comes down to guys wanting to play college football,” Kopach said. “If we don’t have guys like that, it’s going to be a long season, but I think we’ve got guys who will step up.”