NMU comes up short in season finale

Jon Young

The Wildcats finished off their 2011 football campaign with a 21-18 loss on Saturday against U.P. rival Michigan Tech. Head coach Bernie Anderson said this year’s senior class left a positive mark on the program.

“There are 23 of them and I don’t know if I’ve ever had a group that worked longer and harder then this one,” Anderson said. “Anytime they work that hard you’re going to miss them. They’ve been a great leadership group for us and I think they leave a great example for our younger guys and we should be hungry.”

NMU (3-7 GLIAC, 4-7 overall) got a chance to force the game into overtime after the Huskies got flagged with a roughing the passer penalty as time expired. Junior kicker Rockne Belmonte’s 52-yard kick came up short. Senior defensive lineman Matt Forward said the little things added up over the season.

“It seems like this season everything that could go wrong did,” said Forward. “Balls don’t bounce in our favor, other teams got the ball but we stick together and that’s the biggest thing.

The ’Cats clawed their way back into the game after falling behind 21-10 with just under 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

A 10-play, 80-yard drive was capped off when junior running back Prince Young scrambled nine yards for his second touchdown of the game. He also punched in the two- point conversion to pull the ’Cats within three. Anderson said the team expects a battle when they play Tech.

“It was a great football game; it’s a great rivalry, both teams played their hearts out,” Anderson said.

The Huskies started their final drive with 2:53 left and after one first down were forced to punt by the NMU defense. The ’Cats had no timeouts on their final drive which started with a minute left on their own 20-yard line.

Anderson said he was impressed with his team’s fight against a Tech defense that’s statistically the best in the GLIAC.

“We went against one of the best defenses in the conference,” Anderson said. We didn’t win and it doesn’t feel good to lose but at the same time when you do you’re best and play your heart out, and I thought we did; we’ll go home happy.”

After a scoreless first half, NMU got on the board first when senior defensive back Brennan VanEffen took the opening kick off 57 yards, setting up a 42-yard field goal by Belmonte. The kick gave Belmonte the Wildcat record for most field goals in a season with 15.

The Huskies responded with a touchdown taking a 7-3 lead before Young scored his first touchdown of the game putting the ’Cats up 10-7. Senior quarterback Carter Kopach had high praises for the Huskies program.

“They’re a great team, coach (Tom) Kearly is a class act,” Kopach said. “We don’t like to lose but if we do lose we like it to be to a team like that because they’re a class act.”

This season, Kopach led the Wildcat offense with 2,054 passing yards and 15 passing touchdowns and six more rushing. Young lead the ground attack with 960 yards and five touchdowns.

Sophomore wide receiver Christian Jessie paced the receiving core with 55 catches for 568 yards and four touchdowns. Christian Marble-King had 58 receptions for 481 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Forward said the team has grown close over his career. “It’s a great group of guys, probably my best friends in the world,” Forward said. “Being so far away from home, we’re like family and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world.”