Sixteen NMU football players played their last game as Wildcats Saturday, finishing off their careers with a 41-14 win over Indianapolis on their way to a 6-4 season.
The 6-4 record overall, and in the GLIAC, marks the first winning season for the Wildcats since 2002. NMU finished tied for fourth in the conference this season after being predicted 10th in the preseason poll.
“I’m just really happy for the seniors, it’s been a tough four or five years for them and now they’ve got that taste of victory,” head coach Bernie Anderson said.
NMU senior kicker Jonathan Laue learned quite a bit over his five years as a Wildcat. Saturday on Senior Day, those things were all on display, from executing a perfect on-side kick while lined up in normal kickoff formation, to averaging 60 yards per kick-off, to bringing in two touchdown saving tackles.
Where Laue learned to make the perfect form tackles, like on display Saturday, remains the only question.
“I don’t know what happened there,” Laue said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
Senior linebacker Nathan Yelk may have an explanation as to where Laue learned the art of tackling.
“We were roommates,” Yelk said laughing. “I don’t know if he’s done that in his practice time or not, I’ll take credit for it I guess.”
Although winning the game was the main goal Saturday, Anderson felt it was special for all seniors to get a chance to play in their final game.
“You can’t go back and can’t do it over,” Anderson said. “We tried to play them every bit. It was more important that we win the game than play the group of seniors, but I’m really thankful we had the opportunity to do both.”
NMU was able to jump out to a 21-0 halftime lead over Indy, thanks in part to three touchdown passes thrown by sophomore quarterback Carter Kopach, and two to senior wideout Zach Nichols. Nichols finished the game with eight catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns, a worthy day to end a Wildcat football career.
“I think that we all knew going in that this is our last performance,” Nichols said. “We knew what we had to do.”
Yelk, senior captain and defensive leader of the team, ended the day with seven tackles, finishing with 98 on the season for the second year in a row.
It was an emotional day for many, including Yelk.
“I can’t explain all the emotions or even begin to describe them, but they’re emotions I wouldn’t pass up for anything,” Yelk said. “It’s been a career that I’m proud of.”
Fifth year NMU seniors like Yelk have seen two head coaches, two offensive coordinators and three defensive coordinators in their time as Wildcats, and those transitions can be hard on any player. A winning attitude also needed to be established, something Yelk feels was done this season.
“I think we brought a little swagger, a little confidence back into the locker room,” he said. “We did a lot of great things [this season] and to say I was a part of that is definitely a great feeling.”
A win for the seniors to end their career made things all that much better.
“A win is a sweet taste to the sour note that I’m done,” Yelk said. “It’s always good to go out on top especially in front of our fans.”
Senior running back Mark Bossuah finished the day with 78 yards rushing, passing 3,000 rushing yards in his career. Bossuah also added to his touchdown total, bringing it to 35 scores on his career with two on Saturday. In fact, the last play Bossuah was on the field for Saturday happened to be a seven yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter. His last play as a Wildcat.
“There’s no other thing to do,” Bossuah said. “To go out with your very last play being a touchdown. That’s amazing. How many guys get that chance? That’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Bossuah feels that the program is now left in good hands and that it is better now than five years ago.
“When I came here, Northern was kind of struggling,” he said. “The team’s going to be good, we lose some seniors, but they’ve got the depth to step up.”