With four games remaining on the year, and the NMU football team posting a 1-5 record, the ‘Cats will have look toward to the future and hope for a strong finish for the 2008 season.
Last Saturday, the ‘Cats traveled to Detroit to take on Wayne State in hopes of turning the tide on a four-game losing streak. NMU would fall short of this goal losing 24-10.
So, going into Hillsdale (3-3 GLIAC, 4-3 overall), what’s left to play for this season?
According to head coach Bernie Anderson, pride and overcoming adversity.
“How tough can you be, when you face adversity? That’s one part of it,” Anderson said. “There’s still four games left, being able to finish strong, there’s a lot to that. There’s a lot to getting better, there’s a lot to your pride, a lot to your alumni and there’s everything to play for yet.”
Saturday the ‘Cats offense continued to struggle, and turnovers were again a problem. The wildcats turned the ball over four times. Three of which were by way of fumble.
Quarterback Carter Kopach continued to struggle, as well. The redshirt freshman quarterback started his third-consecutive game and has turned the ball over in each game he’s played. On the season, Kopach has five interceptions in five games.
The past two weeks, Kopach has amounted 152 yards passing. Saturday, the signal-caller went 10-22 for 68 yards, one interception and one touchdown.
Junior Ben Hempel, who started the team’s first three games of the season, will return this week against Hillsdale from a shoulder injury he sustained in the Wildcats season-opening win.
Anderson said the quarterback position isn’t what is holding the ‘Cats back, so things will stay the same.
“We’re not losing football games because of our quarterback at this point. So right now, Kopach will start,” Anderson said. “We’re at 0-0 right now and taking it one week at a time.”
The offense continued to run the ball well against the Warriors, as junior tailback Mark Bossuah rushed for 124 yards on 21 carries, with a 5.9 yards per rush average.
Defensively, the Wildcats were led by junior linebacker Nathan Yelk, who amassed 14 total tackles, including 1.5 for loss and one sack.
In a season that has had little bright spots the linebacker corps, led by Yelk and fellow junior Zach Gauthier, has been one of the areas that has been a spark for the team.
Saturday though, Gauthier went down with an injury that may leave him out for the remainder of the season.
Now the pressure is on the younger linebackers to step up and Yelk said, he is looking to be a leader.
“I try to set an example for everybody, not just the linebackers,” Yelk said, “I think its natural though to look up to the oldest guy who has more playing experience. Also to look for answers and I try to take that upon myself. To always be on point with the right answers and always know what’s going on.”
Yelk has 42 tackles in five games this season, with 2.5 for a loss and one sack.
Junior linebacker Scott Avery is one player who has playing above expectations and said Yelk, and Avery is one of those guys younger players can look to.
“Some of our best leaders on the defense would have to be Nathan Yelk, one of our captains, Zach Gauthier, also one of the captains, and Alex Grignon,” Avery said. “They’re all pretty sound leaders.”
Avery’s added 20 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, with 2 sacks and one forced fumble.
Several young NMU linebackers have raised their game this season besides Awery. John Blessing and redshirt freshman Eddie Knoblock have pitched in during the time of this struggling offense.
Blessing has been the biggest surprise of the group, and has amounted more playing time as the season’s progressed.
On the year, Blessing has 23 tackles with four being for loss, and one fumble recovery.
“Blessing definitely has been a bright spot and Avery has always been consistent,” Yelk said. “And Eddie (Knoblock) made the switch (to inside linebacker) at midseason, and it seems like he’s picking it up real well on the inside.”
Avery was another player who made a switch in the offseason after playing his first two seasons with his hand on the ground as a defensive lineman, a fact he feels has improved his game as a rush linebacker this season.
“I’m bigger than most other of our linebackers that we have, and still just as fast as them, so I try to use that to my advantage playing over the tight ends,” Avery said.
The future of the position is something that looks to only get better for the Wildcats, through this season and next, it will be a faction of the defense the NMU football team can count on.
“The future of the linebacker group looks good,” Avery said, “we’re going to be returning everyone in the linebackers, at least for one more year, so I think we can only improve.”
Improvement is something the ‘Cats are trying to do day-in-and-day-out and the next chance they have to improve their record is this weekend. The kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. in Hillsdale Mich. against the Chargers.