The Northern Michigan University football team opened up their conference schedule with a big 49-10 win against the Findlay Oilers on Saturday Sept. 11. It was the first win of the season for the Wildcats.
The offensive onslaught was led by junior quarterback Carter Kopach as he went 17 of 24 for 269 yards with four touchdowns, one interception and one rushing touchdown. Kopach was named GLIAC offensive player of the week for his performance.
“It felt good. It was a great team win and the offense got a lot of credit,” Kopach said. “A lot of guys stepped up so it made my job a lot easier.”
Northern was able to get over 370 total yards, 16 first downs and averaged seven yards per play. It was the first opportunity to see the results promised by the new spread offense, unlike week one’s 207 total yards for only six points against Minnesota State-Mankato.
“I think it’s just reps and getting used to the system,” said Offensive Coordinator Chris Ostrowsky. “We had a ton of mistakes still, but we played well enough to win.”
Senior wide receiver Dustin Brancheau led the offensive position players with 100 yards and a NMU record-tying three receiving touchdowns, including a 49-yard reception on a fleaflicker pass.
“We knew that we had a one-on-one situation against the safety, so we took a shot and we got it,” Brancheau said. “The line did a great job blocking and Carter threw it right on the money.”
The first score for the ’Cats was not from the offense, but rather an interception return from cornerback Marcus Tribble. After the defensive line forced Findlay’s freshman quarterback out of the pocket, Tribble was able to jump the route and run down the visitor’s sideline for the score with ten minutes to go in the first quarter.
“It was a basic bunch set,” Tribble said. “What we’re thinking is one guy has to go out, one guy is going deep and one guy is crossing the formation. (Quarterbacks) usually look for the crosser, but Eddie Knobloch did a great job taking him out, so it was a late delay throw and I jumped the route and made a good play.”
After an Oiler three-and-out, the Wildcats responded with a seven play, 70-yard drive capped by a 33-yard touchdown by tight end Craig Thompson. The ball was originally attempted to true freshman wide receiver Christian Marble-King on a seven-yard pass, but after he was hit by a Findlay linebacker the ball popped out, bounced off the hands of a Findlay cornerback and was caught by Thompson. He then ran the ball for 23 yards after the catch for the score.
“(The touchdown) was more of a present than anything,” Thompson said. “It landed right in my hands and (I) took it from there.”
On the next three NMU drives, the Wildcats scored touchdowns as well. Brancheau scored on the fleaflicker 16 seconds into the second quarter and later in the half as Kopach threw an off-balance throw before the line of scrimmage to Brancheau in the near corner of the end zone. Tight end Blake Crider added the last score of the half as he beat out three Findlay defensive backs to catch a 19-yard fade pass. Kopach completed 12 of 13 passes in the first half.
“After the fleaflicker, things started to click found a rhythm,” Kopach said. “Some three-and-outs from the defense helped with that and we had great teamwork.
However, the ’Cats ended the first half and started the second half rough. The Oilers were able to mount a successful two-minute offense by working the left side of the field behind sophomore running back Monterae Williams for a touchdown, while the ’Cats first drive had two penalties for ten yards and a low snap on the punt attempt, turning over the ball on downs at the NMU 29. The Northern defense responded quickly by picking off another Tate pass on the second play of Findlay’s drive, only to have Kopach throw his one interception of the game to safety Bryon Rizzi. Findlay was able to capitalize on the turnover with a 38-yard field goal.
“We had to come out and get settled down,” Thompson said. “We went to the sideline and (the coaches) would say ‘settle down’ and we worked up from there.”
NMU settled down and responded with Kopach’s one yard touchdown run after an 11 play, 59 yard drive highlighted by a 20 yard completion on fourth down to wide receiver Tony Awrey on an audible trick play.
“We have a play where if (the defense) goes offsides, we just snap the ball and the receivers go deep and Carter did a good job of recognizing that the safety over top had stopped playing too. So I just went down deep and I went up for it and (Kopach) put it in a spot where I could get it and the defense couldn’t.
The two teams continued to exchange drives until the final NMU score as Brancheau wrote his way into the record book with his third touchdown with 9:55 left in the game.
“It’s something I’m pretty happy about. With the wide receivers that have come out of NMU, it’s nice to be in the books with them.”
To have such an impressive blowout, the defense had to perform as well. The Wildcats did just that as the defense held the run-dominant Oilers to just 133 yards on the ground on 41 attempts and 239 yards total. The ’Cats forced five turnovers by five different players and recorded three sacks. NMU is now tied for seventh in NCAA Division II in scoring defense, twelfth in total defense and tied for twelfth in interceptions.
“Everything opened up,” said senior linebacker Eddie Knoblock. “We were a lot faster than those guys. The line just opened up a lot of things for us.”
Despite the 39-point spread and the defensive dominance, there was one glaring problem for Northern: penalties. The Wildcats had ten penalties for 66 yards in the game. In 2009, the ’Cats didn’t have that many penalties or penalty yards until the second half of the third game of the season.
“Penalties are something that’s going to happen,” Kopach said. “I think we had one personal foul which was bad but the rest were from being aggressive. If you come out aggressive penalties are going to happen.”
The next opponent for the Wildcats will be the Northwood University Timberwolves. The ’Cats are looking to vindicate last year’s 23-21 season-opening loss in Midland.
“Were going to go down there and get some revenge,” Awrey said. “Were going to prepare real well this week, were going to go out and get them.”