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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas Wiertella April 30, 2024

Wildcats defeated in clutch moment

A failed two-point conversion with 47 seconds left in the Northern Michigan football team’s season opener condemned the Wildcats to a 7-6 loss against the No. 18 Mavericks of Minnesota State-Mankato last Thursday, Sept. 2.

The two-point attempt came after freshman wide receiver  Christian Marble-King caught a pass from junior quarterback Carter Kopach near the right hash-marks and bounced off the Maverick defensemen into the end zone in the final minute of play. NMU immediately lined up for the two-point conversion, but before the ball was snapped, head coach Bernie Anderson called a timeout from the sideline. After both teams reset for the two-point attempt, the ’Cats ran a play-action misdirection pass.

This was the first game of the season for the Wildcats, and they have now lost their first game for the second year in a row.

Wildcat freshman running back Thaddeus Scott looks for an open lane while shedding a defender’s tackle. Scott had two rushes for 60 yards and three catches for 25 yards, all in his first collegiate game. // Photo courtesy of Connie Awery

First games always have problems, as it is the first opportunity for teams to play someone other than their own teammates. The most noticeable issue was the four sacks for a loss of 29 yards by the Maverick defense. NMU had given up only 20 sacks for all of last season.

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“We’re going to make sure we improve up front,” Offensive Line Coach Rob Boss said. “We got to make sure we work on staying square and working through twists and we got to do a better job with our backs and tight ends. We just have to improve this week.”

The game started out as a defensive stalemate, as both teams went three-and-out on their first two possessions. The Wildcats were able to get a drive going on their third possession behind the running game of Kopach and junior running back John Privatelli. The two players combined for 44 rushing yards on the drive, but the drive ended when sophomore kicker Rockne Belmonte pushed the ball wide right on a 36 yard attempt.

“The wind was calm on the field, but it was blowing pretty hard on the uprights,” Belmonte said. “I thought it was going through, but the wind just took it and pushed it.”

The second quarter also saw a strong offensive presence by the Wildcats, but this time through the passing game. Completions to running back Thaddeus Scott for 14 yards and tight end Blake Crider for 22 yards were some of the longest plays from scrimmage the offense had all game and Kopach also ran for a 15- yard gain.  On the next play, the drive was cut short by an interception at the MSU-Mankato 15 yard line, leaving the ’Cats once again empty handed.

The Mavericks received the ball to start the second half, but the drive was short-lived after cornerback Marcus Tribble picked off the 7-yard out route from MSU-Mankato quarterback Steve Pachan.

“It was just a basic cover-3 (play),” Tribble said. “I recognized the QB and he kind of checked off like he wanted a quick read and I knew what he was going to go for the first down. I made a good guess and made the play.”

The offense was unable to convert a first down after the interception and had to punt. As punter Garrett Peck went back for the punt, the snap sailed over his head as a mad scramble ensued for the ball. Peck ended up recovering the ball all the way back on the Wildcats 8 yard line, only to have possession transfer to the Mavericks on downs.

The ’Cats staunch defense once again held as the Mavericks only went five yards on their goal-to-go drive. The score stayed scoreless as MSU-Mankato kicker Sam Brockshus nailed the right upright on the failed 22-yard attempt.

Brockshus missed another attempt to steal the lead from the Wildcats in the third quarter, as he sent a 36-yard attempt wide right. Brockshus was set up for the kick after wide receiver Dustin Brancheau fumbled the ball running after the catch on the NMU 21.

The scoreless tie was finally broken by the Mavericks with 5:33 left in the game, as backup quarterback Will Brogan aired it out to wide receiver Adam Thielen.  After an unsportsmanlike penalty issued to a non-dressed player on the Mankato sideline, Brockshus split the uprights on the 26-yard PAT.

The Wildcats responded quickly, returning the squib kick back to the Mavericks 46 yard line. Kopach and Marble-King helped the cause as they connected over the middle on a 27-yard gain. The ’Cats could move the ball no further as a 1-yard scramble by Kopach and three straight incompletions, including a dropped 11-yard pass by Brancheau, ended the drive on downs at the Mankato 19.

“(I’m) definitely very disappointed,” Brancheau said. “I know I can play much better than that and the coaches and the team is looking for more from me than that.”

The run-stuffing D once again stopped running back Jake Aberg quickly to save time on the clock. After the Maverick three and out, the Wildcats regained possession at their own 47 with 2:08 left in the game.

The ’Cats ran a very effective two-minute offense as they went four of seven for 53 yards and the score, with completions by Brancheau and Marble-King.

Even though the game ended in a loss, the team believes this is the start the team wanted for the season.

“The defense did great, and now (the offense has) got to go help them out,” Brancheau said. “If we can hold a team like Mankato to seven points and we can get our offense clicking. As the season moves along we will be a much better team.”

The debut of the new offensive scheme was overshadowed by the defensive strength of last year’s eighth-best nationally scoring defense. MSU-Mankato’s trio of tailbacks in Aberg, Chris Echols and Taylor Brookins was held to just 91 yards on 31 attempts. Last year the Mavericks averaged 219.4 yards per game on the ground. Linebacker Eddie Knoblock and defensive tackle Zach Anderson led the team with seven tackles.

“It’s good cause we run a 3-4, so a lot of teams don’t expect us to be able to stop the run,” Anderson said, “but with Coach Awrey’s play calls he puts us right in the play each time.”

Kopach ended the game completing half of his passes, going 17 of 34 for 168 yards, with one interception and touchdown. Marble-King was the top wide receiver with six receptions for 72 yards. The freshman wide receiver was optimistic about what the offense could do in future games.

“We have the power in our hands to do whatever we want,” Marble-King said. “We want to be the best offense in the nation and it comes down to whether we stop ourselves because that’s the only way that someone can stop us.”

The Wildcats next game will be on Saturday, Sept. 11 against the University of Findlay Oilers. The game will be the home opener for the Wildcats and the first GLIAC game for both teams.

“Well, they had a good year last year, but were looking to keep it simple against them,” Kopach said. “We’re going to play fast and play hard and go for the win.”

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