After the NMU football team picked up a win last weekend, the ‘Cats look to continue their success against the No. 1 team in the nation, the Grand Valley State Lakers.
Both NMU (2-6) and GVSU (8-0) feature players receiving all-conference recognition.
NMU junior linebacker Nathan Yelk is coming off a 17-tackle performance, which earned him defensive player of the week honors.
Grand Valley junior quarterback Brad Iciek earned offensive player of the week honors, throwing for 319 yards and four scores against GLIAC opponent Ashland. Iciek is the leader of the Lakers 8-0 offense, which ranks second in the GLIAC in total offense, averaging 438.5 yards a game.
“We look at Grand Valley like this: We’re the only team in the country that plays the No. 1 team in the country (this week),” head coach Bernie Anderson said. “And we look at it as a measuring stick. Let’s play the best, lest see how good they really are.”
The Wildcats are coming off some success of their own. On Saturday, the team won for the second time this season, against the Findlay Oilers 29-21.
With this victory, NMU ended its six-game losing skid.
“Today is a great learning lesson for a young football team learning to overcome adversity,” Anderson said after Saturday’s game. “And there’s enough adversity in that game to last a lifetime, but we did overcome it, and it’s good to have this win.”
With four running backs out of commission against Findlay, Northern was forced to turn to other positions for help on the ground.
One player in the backfield was senior wide receiver Fred Wells, who started his first four consecutive seasons at wideout.
“When I first found out that was going to happen, I kind of got butterflies in my stomach,” Wells said. “My favorite player was Barry Sanders, and I got to imitate my favorite player today, so I just took on that challenge.”
Wells didn’t disappoint, turning in a Sanders-like performance for a first-time running back, gaining 119 yards on 23 carries, along with two touchdowns.
“When you take a wide receiver and make him a running back, that’s not an easy thing,” Anderson said. “I think a lot of people had to rise to the occasion like the offensive line, but Freddy Wells did a great job in the backfield.”
Wells wasn’t the only player in an out-of-the-ordinary position. The Wildcat’s backfield also featured redshirt-freshman quarterback Matt Blanchard at running back.
Blanchard, a 6-foot 3-inch 225 pounder, is known for making plays with his legs, but had never played a down of running back before.
“Coaches approached me at the beginning of the week and they asked me if I wanted to play running back. We had (second string, freshman) Brandon Smith out, (starting running back, junior) Mark Bossuah out, so it was just like, ‘I’ll step up and do it,'” Blanchard said.
On the afternoon, Blanchard had 11 carries totaling 52 yards while splitting time with Wells.
“We flat out ran out of tailbacks, we didn’t have a healthy back to go to, so we put Blanchard back there,” Anderson said. “He’s not a tailback, he’s a big body that goes north and south, but he didn’t turn the ball over and he gave us some spell time. And that’s what we needed out of him.”
Blanchard said he’d do what it takes for the betterment of the team, even if he did feel a little out of place in the running back position.
“I know quarterback is where I want to be and where I want to play, but I’ll do whatever it takes to win right now and for the future,” Blanchard said.
The near future for the Wildcats is facing the No. 1 team in the country in Grand Valley State University.
Northern has not beaten the 2005 and 2006 National Champions since 2000.
Last season the Wildcats lost 44-14 in a road match against the Lakers.
With the big game approaching, the running back position will still be plagued by injuries and inexperience.
“Right now it looks like it’s going to be the same situation it was last week,” NMU offensive coordinator Jeff Duvendeck said. “Freddy will probably be our starter again this week, (sophomore, Brennan) VanEffen’s coming back off of an injury, so he’ll probably work in there a little bit too.”
Duvendeck was more than happy with the performance from Wells and Blanchard.
Adding to them is the return of VanEffen this week, and Duvendeck said, the running back position looks brighter than weeks before.
“I thought they did a great job stepping in, we didn’t know until Wednesday that we were going to move them there,” Duvendeck said. “So for as much as they had to run the ball (last week) I thought they did a great job.”
Game time is set for 1 p.m. at the Superior Dome.