NMU comes up short on Homecoming

Jon Young

Onside kicks, fumble recoveries, and the hurry-up offense. The NMU football team experienced it all in the final two minutes of its 30-28 loss to the No. 9 nationally ranked Wayne State University Warriors.

The ’Cats (2-2 GLIAC, 3-2 overall) fell behind early but battled back from a 24-point deficit to take the game to the wire. Head coach Bernie Anderson said his team’s effort put them in position for the win.

“You can’t spot a national-ranked team 24 points and come back and win, but we damn near did,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t be happier with how hard we played for four quarters, regardless of what the score was at any point.”

The ’Cats’ final scoring drive started with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter after a fumble recovery by senior defensive back Marcus Tribble. Senior quarterback Carter Kopach marched the Wildcats down field, using five different receivers before connecting with senior wide-out Jared Buss for a 12-yard strike with 48 seconds left.

With one timeout left and down two, the ’Cats recovered the onside kick attempt. The offense was unable to move the ball and Wayne State batted away the fourth down pass attempt to force a turnover-on-downs.

Offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky said the players’ willingness to learn is helping to progress the offense.

“I can guarantee to this community, we’re going to be something big,” Ostrowsky said. “We’re still in the early stages of this thing offensively, and were going to get it done, because these kids want to get it done.”

Wayne State jumped out to an early lead when they returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Their first drive resulted in 33-yard field goal and they converted touchdowns off an interception and a botched fake punt from NMU.

The ’Cats defense adjusted in the second half and held the Warriors to three points. Senior defensive lineman Zach Pierson said the team had more drive this week as compared to the Ashland game.

“Last week I felt like there was some quit at the end of the game; we weren’t fighting,” Pierson said. “This week we came back and fought right to the end. I’m definitely more proud to be a Wildcat after that loss than last week.”

The defense was solid throughout the second half but had trouble stopping the Warriors on third down.
Wayne State racked up seven third down conversions, five of which came in the first half. Anderson said the third down conversions hurt his team on both sides of the ball.

“That’s a big part of the game,” Anderson said. “When you don’t convert on third downs and you’re giving up third downs you lose field position, and when you lose field position you lose points, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Poorly timed penalties and turnovers plagued the Wildcats throughout the game. Three interceptions, three turnovers-on-downs and eight flags for 52 yards hindered the offense. Anderson said, despite the setbacks his team was still within contention.

“We self-destructed some; there’s no question about that,” Anderson said. “We had false starts and dropped balls. Defensively, third-and-long situations killed us. We didn’t play our best game and we were one play away.”

The Wildcats finished the game with 17 first downs and 296 yards of total offense. Sophomore receiver Christian Marble-King and freshmen receiver Julian Gaines had 129 and 116 yards and a touchdown a piece.

Kopach connected on 23 of 44 passes for 293 yards and threw four touchdowns. Junior linebacker Josh Droese led the team with nine tackles. The defense also recovered three Wayne State fumbles and caused an interception.

Next week, the Wildcats host the Grand Valley State Lakers (1-3 GLIAC, 2-3 overall). Kickoff is at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8. at the Superior Dome.