The Wildcats (1-0) claimed a 41-31 victory over the University of Findlay to avenge a 45-10 loss in last season’s opening game against the Oilers.Head coach Chris Ostrowsky said it was a great win for the team after their hard work to improve on a 4-7 record from 2012.
“The success we find this year is going to be against the best this league has to offer, and (Findlay) was a good football team,” Ostrowsky said. “It is certainly far from where we want to be in terms of a complete four quarters, but it’s a great feeling for these guys to get a win after all their hard work.”
The NMU defense forced four turnovers, resulting in three touchdowns for the ’Cats. Senior linebacker Morgan Stenz led the Wildcats with 13 tackles.
On the offensive end, NMU racked up 507 yards. Senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak completed 320 passing yards for two touchdowns and one interception, connecting with senior wide receiver Christian Jessie for 10 catches. Jessie finished with one touchdown and 10 catches for 189 yards.
On the first possession of the season, Jessie ran for 18 yards off a pass from Scepaniak to set up a touchdown.
Scepaniak ran in from the one, and NMU scored with 10:55 left to take an early lead in the game.
Scepaniak said one of the most important factors in the success of the team is the trust the players built for one another.
“We really bonded well and I have great faith and trust in them, and you need that in games on both sides of the ball,” Scepaniak said. “I can’t just throw the ball up there and say go get it if I don’t trust you, and I’m really excited that we have that kind of trust.”
Findlay (1-0) responded with a 42-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Devontae Payne to junior wide receiver Lloyd Henry. The field goal tied the score at seven with 7:26 left in the quarter.
The ’Cats defense began making plays.
With 9:00 left in the second quarter, junior linebacker Nick Krause forced a fumble that was recovered by Stenz.
The Wildcats turned the possession into a 16-yard gain from Jessie and sophomore running back Wyatt Jurasin finished the play with a 10-yard run for a touchdown.
With less than two minutes in the half, the ’Cats defense continued their run.
Senior defensive back Brandon Parson intercepted the ball and returned it 23 yards.
NMU turned the interception into a touchdown when junior receiver Marcus Tucker scored on a 23-yard pass from Scepaniak.
Scepaniak said the big defensive plays gave the offense motivation.
“The defense is always giving us momentum on turnovers and vice versa, if we get big plays it helps them,” Scepaniak said. “With the momentum you get a little excited and we just want to attack them and execute.”
At the half, the ’Cats had a 31-7 lead.
The Oilers came back at the NMU to score a field goal with 8:54 in the third quarter.
In return, Jessie scored on an 85-yard pass from Scepaniak, but Findlay followed with a touchdown in their final possession of the quarter.
The Wildcats were up 38-17 going into the fourth, but the Oilers scored on their next two possessions.
Stenz said the team talked at halftime about how they needed to keep up the momentum, but it didn’t immediately resonate.
“At half we talked about how if we can do it in one quarter they can, the old cliche,” Stenz said. “They were finding holes in our defense, and it was an extremely bad feeling. We started bringing the pressure and started seeing turnovers at the end of the game.”
The Oilers rallied in the fourth to come within 31-38 of the ’Cats with 9:22 left in the game.
Stenz said the Wildcats should have been better prepared for Findlay’s comeback.
“We obviously need to be better conditioned, we need to be mentally tougher,” Stenz said. “We really need to work on our effort when we’re tired.”
The Wildcats edged ahead of the Oilers with a 29-yard field goal at 4:25 from junior kicker Jon Linkenheimer.
The field goal ended the game and the Wildcats earned a 41-31 victory.
NMU takes the field against Ohio Dominican (2-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21 for the homecoming game in the Superior Dome.
“We knew we had to win the turnover margin, that was critical for us,” Ostrowsky said. “[Findlay] created a ton of turnovers and I believe we won that margin today. I’m excited about the future, I’m excited about next week, and we’re going to enjoy the night, that’s for sure.”