The NMU football team extended their winning streak to six games on Saturday, dominating then-No.19 Wayne State University by a score of 45-20.
Oct. 10’s win marked the Wildcats’ second straight win over a ranked opponent on the year, having defeated No. 16 Saginaw Valley State the previous week. Northern now sits at 5-1 on the year and tied for first in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) at 5-1.
“It’s a big game and an important game that keeps us on the right track,” head coach Bernie Anderson said. “But it’s not a turning point just yet. Turning points happen over a long period of time.”
The ‘Cats are now ranked No. 23 in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Top 25 poll and 24th in the www.d2football.com media poll. Both polls have been around since 2000, and it is the first time NMU has appeared on either.
Players and coaches won’t let the extra attention get to their heads however.
“It’s still early, we’re still only halfway through,” Anderson said. “We’ll look at the rankings after weeks eight, nine and ten. Then we’ll want to be ranked.”
The Wildcat defense held WSU’s star running back Joique Bell, the nation’s leading rusher, to a season low 106 yards and an average of just 3.5 yards per carry, also a season low.
“We knew No. 5 [Bell] was getting the ball,” junior outside linebacker Demitri Stewart said. “Regardless of where he went, he was getting the ball, so we keyed in on him and did our job.”
Anderson was impressed with his defense for stopping Bell from making the big play Saturday.
“The idea was to swarm and get after him,” he said. “I thought we did a nice job of great pursuit and great determination to get to him. We had a second or third guy there, so one didn’t always have to take him down.”
The NMU offense racked up 372 total yards. Senior running back Mark Bossuah ran for 97 yards and two scores while freshman Antonio Wallace added 88 yards and one score.
Sophomore quarterback Carter Kopach completed 15 of 23 passes for 163 yards and two scores. Senior wideout Zach Nichols brought in six passes for 78 yards and both of Kopach’s touchdowns.
Northern felt confident enough in their passing game to throw twice while in the redzone, which added to two big scores Saturday.
“I think we have (confidence) going in every week,” Kopach said. “But right now how the seasons going running the ball, getting so many yards on the ground, we haven’t really had to exhibit that part of our game. So we felt comfortable, I always feel comfortable throwing to any of my receivers.”
Now, more than halfway through the season and with a 5-1 record, NMU looks to continue their five-game winning streak against GLIAC opponent Hillsdale College (5-2, 4-2 GLIAC).
The Wildcats will have one thing working for them in that the game, will be played inside the Superior Dome, where the ‘Cats are 3-0 this season and average 47 points a game.
The story of Saturday’s conference match-up will be the difference in turnover margins. NMU ranks second overall in the GLIAC with a plus-ten turnover margin, while the Hillsdale Chargers rank seventh with a minus-two turnover margin.
So far on the season NMU has turned the ball over just seven times, while taking the ball away 17 times. In last Saturday’s game against WSU, the Wildcats tallied four takeaways on two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
One of the main defensive contributors to last game’s success was Dmitri Stewart. The pressure he brought forced the game’s two fumbles.
“I felt like I could chase him [WSU quarterback Mickey Mohner] down from the backside, and I got to him a couple times,” Stewart said. “We made a lot of good plays today on defense. Everybody’s starting to pick up the defense, and we’re more comfortable. We actually run around and play instead of thinking all the time.”
The first fumble came in the first half and set up a Wildcat field goal, while the other came in the fourth quarter after the Warriors had cut the lead to just 11 points. The second fumble led to a 25-yard defensive touchdown by senior linebacker Nathan Yelk.
“I thought those were the two plays that really put it away when it started to change in their [WSU’s] favor,” Anderson said.
With four games to go in the regular season the Wildcats now sit only one takeaway behind last season’s total of 18. According to Kopach the defensive pressure and tenacity so far this season is paying dividends all across this NMU team.
“It’s great, as an offensive player, knowing you don’t have to force things,” Kopach said. “You just really have to stay within yourself and the system.”
Although this NMU team is starting to garner the attention across the conference as well as the country, players remain grounded on the bigger goal, which is to beat Hillsdale this weekend.
“You have to keep playing every week,” Kopach said. “The GLIAC is tough and Hillsdale is a tough opponent, so we’ll have to come out and play our best game against them too.”
Kickoff is at 1 p.m.