For the third week in a row, the Northern Michigan football team found themselves on the losing end of their matchup, falling to No. 6 Grand Valley State 31-19 on Oct. 31. NMU now holds a 5-4 overall record on the season, and in GLIAC play. Grand Valley improved to 9-1 overall and 8-1 in the GLIAC.
NMU showed resiliency throughout the game, cutting a 22-6 lead at halftime to a score of 25-19 in the fourth quarter. The game marked the first time NMU has held the Lakers to under 44 points since the 2000 season.
“We are not at the level that they are yet, but I feel we are going in the right direction, and that we closed the gap,” head coach Bernie Anderson said. “Now we know a little more about the caliber of athletes it’s going to take to beat them.”
Although the Wildcat defense struggled to hold down the Grand Valley rushing attack on the night, the NMU pass defense held All GLIAC quarterback Brad Iciek to his second lowest passing total of the year, with just 151 yards. The Wildcat defense also picked off Iciek twice on the night, his first two interceptions of the year.
With one game remaining this season, NMU now hosts conference opponent Indianapolis (3-6 GLIAC, 4-6) in the Superior Dome in the annual Senior Day game. A victory Saturday for the Wildcats would complete their first winning season since 2002.
“There’s a lot at stake in this game,” Anderson said. “This is a very, very important game; it’s kind of like game number two for us. After opening up with a loss, we needed to get right back on track again. We need to put a good note on our season with a win Saturday.”
Senior linebacker Nathan Yelk has been a key member of NMU’s rebuilding process this season. Yelk knows a win Saturday would do more than give the ‘Cats a winning record this year, it would also show the progress this team has made through the previous seasons.
“I think it’s a pretty big thing, not only for us now, but also for future seasons as far as recruiting,” Yelk said. “I think this is the first year since I’ve been here that we’ve gone toe-to-toe with everybody we’ve played. There was a chance to win every ball game that we’ve played in.”
Saturday’s game marks the last game 16 players will play as Wildcats, making it an emotional game for many.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” said senior quarterback Ben Hempel. “We’ve seen each other grow up, seen each other make mistakes and go through hard times and go through good times. We’ve become real close over the last five years.”
Of the 39 players who signed with NMU in the 2005 recruiting class, only 11 remain with the football program as fifth year seniors. Yelk is a part of that 2005 class that has built a bond, while putting together one of the best seasons in NMU’s recent history.
“Not much has to be said about the guys who stuck it out and made it through,” Yelk said. “I think subconsciously that brought us together knowing that ‘I’ve fought through everything and so did he,’ so you automatically have that bond that we all have and I think it shows out on the field.”
Although most of the 2009 seniors have compiled a record of just 16-33 over the last five years, this year’s team has a chance to finish in the top of the league, an accomplishment in itself.
“That says a lot for the guys that have stuck together and believed in this school’s football program, and it’s a credit to their ability to overcome adversity and find success,” Anderson said.
The feeling of donning a Wildcat football jersey for the last time will become reality Saturday, but it may take some time for it to sink in.
“I don’t think it will totally hit me until the clock strikes zero and I’m walking off the field the last time,” Yelk said.
Offensive seniors are Hempel, running back Mark Bossuah, wide receivers Tyler Schrauben, Justin Merckx, and Zach Nichols, tight end Luke Carlson, and offensive linemen Jack Rustman, Nick Owens and Jon Otto and kicker Jonathan Laue.
Defensive seniors are linemen Jake Reimer, Scott Avery and Mike Hanschmann, and linebackers Yelk, Zach Gauthier and Justin Boren.
Kickoff will be at 1:00 p.m. in the Superior Dome.