MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University defensive coordinator Brian Newberry admitted to a restless Thursday night a week ago after the Wildcats gave up 45 points in a loss at Findlay to open the season.
After the opening drive of this Thursday's home opener, it appeared the first-year NMU coordinator was in for another sleepless night.
Northern allowed visiting NCAA Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse to drive 69 yards on 15 plays for an early touchdown, but the Wildcat defense surrendered little to nothing after that - not even an extra point.
Northern Michigan University’s Christian Jessie gets tripped up by University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Ben Morrison during the first quarter on Thursday at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
The Eagles were held to only 127 yards the rest of the night at the Superior Dome while the Wildcats watched senior running back Prince Young march into the end zone on three occasions in a 24-6 victory, the first for Chris Ostrowsky as a head college football coach.
"When we got off the field after that drive, we kind of simmered them down and reassured them it would all be OK, let's do our job and certainly they did," Ostrowsky said. "We were able to adjust and really dominate them defensively from that drive on."
UW-La Crosse finished with only 54 yards rushing after netting 80 in the first half.
Three sacks by sophomore linebacker Nick Krause, freshman linebacker Nolan Davenport and combined sack by senior linebacker Eddie Knoblock and redshirt freshman Matt Smith marched the Eagles back 26 yards.
NMU also finished with 10 tackles for a loss that moved La Crosse back another 40 yards, with three tackles for a loss and 16 negative yards coming from Krause.
Knoblock finished with a team-high nine tackles, three solo.
Senior defensive tackle Zach Anderson of Sault Ste. Marie posted a team-high five solo tackles and seven total with redshirt freshman defensive back Thomas McNamara and junior linebacker Morgan Stenz also totaling seven tackles.
"We came in, especially some of the younger guys, knowing this is a D-III school coming in, and they took them lightly," Anderson said. "I'm blaming that first drive, that one they got, I'm going to say we took the D-III team lightly.
"There's no way around it. I'm not going to sugar coat it. That's how I feel, but we came in after that drive, and said, 'Hey, they didn't come to mess around. We ain't playing. Let's go.'"
The defensive highlight of the game went to sophomore Jordan Adediran of Gwinn, who returned an interception 26 yards in the fourth quarter to the La Crosse 35-yard line after UWL QB Andy Sires had the ball knocked away while going back to throw.
Adediran nearly made it all the way to the end zone, but the not-so-nimble Modeltowner slipped out of bounds. Young finished the job seven plays later with a 3-yard TD run.
"Today was a dominant, dominant showing on defense," Ostrowsky said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of those guys."
NMU posted 313 yards of offense with 102 coming on the ground courtesy of Young, who now has four rushing TDs on the season.
He ran in a 9-yard TD last week for NMU's only trip to the end zone against Findlay.
At the Superior Dome, Young scored on a 3-yard run to cap a four-play, 25-yard drive that was fueled by a 48-yard Christian Jessie kick return.
Young set up a 1-yard third-quarter TD with a 22-yard scamper on the previous play, capping an eight-play, 92-yard drive that was kept alive via a 56-yard pass from redshirt freshman QB Ryan Morley to junior wide receiver Christian Marble-King on third and 11 from the NMU 7.
"After he caught that ball, the momentum just shifted," Young said. "Everyone said, 'We can do this.' We can drive from 92 yards and score each and every time. We just have to know it, execute and get on with it."
Morley still hasn't found the end zone rushing or passing in his first two collegiate starts at QB, but according to Ostrowsky, the young QB is progressing.
Morley completed 11 of 25 passes for 169 yards. He had one interception after trying to hit Jessie in double coverage in the end zone in the second quarter.
He also took a costly 14-yard sack in the beginning of the second quarter that turned a 36-yard field goal try for senior Rockne Belmonte into a 50-yarder that missed wide left.
"I think (Ryan) was able to decipher some different looks and handle some different coverages and things. When you look at the big third-down passes he threw, I think a step forward for sure."
NOTES: Belmonte hit a 29-yard field goal in the fourth quarter with 5:52 to play to give NMU its three-possession cushion.... NMU true freshman running back Keon Collier left the field on a cart with a leg injury in the fourth quarter. He finished with five carries for 32 yards, all in the second half, after gaining 75 yards on nine carries in Week 1.... Marble-King led all receivers with 81 yards on three catches.... Sophomore Julian Gaines had four catches for 44 yards.... Junior free safety Brandon Parson finished with 102 yards on four punt returns, including a return of 36 yards to the UWL 25 and a 49-yard return to the UWL 37. The first return resulted in a Young TD while the second led to Belmonte's missed FG.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.