MARQUETTE - A 44-yard Rockne Belmonte field goal at the end of the first overtime, a 9-yard touchdown reception by Christian Jessie on the ensuring overtime drive and an interception by Ishpeming's Jacob Lehmann - now graduated - gave the Northern Michigan University football team a double-overtime victory at Findlay (Ohio) in Week 2 of last season, dropping the Oilers to 0-2 and bumping the Wildcats to 2-0.
By season's end, however, it was the Oilers who got the last laugh.
"When we evaluate Findlay, there's not a whole lot about them early in the year that resembles the Findlay late in the year," NMU head football coach Chris Ostrowsky said.
"In terms of our approach from last year to this year, there's really no similarities. There's not a whole lot of looking back."
NMU lost seven of its next nine games while Findlay won six of its final nine games, beating Grand Valley State in Allendale and the eventual NCAA Division II national runners up, Wayne State, in Detroit along the way.
It was the first season for the Oilers under head coach Rob Keys, who led Findlay to a 6-5 overall record following a 1-10 run in 2010.
Echoing Ostrowsky's take, Keys said the Findlay team that will host NMU at 7 p.m. Thursday in the season opener for both squads is nothing like the Findlay of 2011, let alone the team that lost to the 'Cats in double-OT last year.
"What you did last year has no relevance or bearing on what is going to happen in '12," Keys said in his media day interview on GLIAC.org. "We understand now what it takes to beat a really good football team and hopefully, we can win a few more."
The Oilers were picked to finish third in the GLIAC South Division this season with one league coach awarding Findlay a first-place vote.
Findlay returns All-GLIAC running back Monterae Williams, who rushed for 1,268 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, including 143 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against NMU.
He's 698 yards away from becoming the Oilers' all-time leading rusher.
The Oilers also have senior Clay Belton back under center in 2012. Belton completed 26-of-52 passes for 287 yards in the OT loss to NMU, but the 'Cats did nab four interceptions - including the game-clincher.
Belton finished 2011 with 2,039 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, good for ninth in the GLIAC behind now-departed NMU QB Carter Kopach.
Seth White led the Oilers in receptions last year as a junior with 60 catches for 628 yards and four touchdowns. He was largely neutralized against the Wildcats in Week 2 with only four catches for 49 yards.
Alex Kovach caught six passes for 108 yards against Northern last year, and, he too, returns for his senior season.
"We have to do a great job of stopping the run," Ostrowsky said. "We've got to find ways to get them to turn the football over, which would be a pretty critical component for us. In contrast, on offense, we have to got to protect the football. If we can get out of this game winning the turnover battle, we'll have a great chance of winning."
Defensively, Findlay only returns six starters with All-GLIAC honorable mentions Brandon Butler, a senior linebacker, and Richard Sumlin, a senior tackle.
The Oilers' defense in 2011 was one of the league's worst at No. 12, allowing 31.9 points and 413.3 yards per game. Just above the Oilers, however, was the Wildcat defense at No. 11, allowing 29.6 points and 408.8 yards per contest.
"There is only one way to go defensively," said Keys, who was the defensive backs coach at New Hampshire before coming to Findlay. "Last year, we gave up 40 points a game. It's not nearly good enough to win in this league. We have to improve in all areas."
Findlay's defense is very much like Northern's, with multiple looks out of the 3-4 and 4-3 alignments.
According to Ostrowsky, the Oilers will challenge the Wildcats' redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Morley, who will be taking his first collegiate snap Thursday at the Oilers' Donnell Stadium.
"This is a great test for Ryan right off the bat," Ostrowsky said. "He's going to have a whole lot on his plate here in Week 1."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.