MARQUETTE - Heading into the Week 6 Miner's Cup football battle against Michigan Tech at the Superior Dome, the Northern Michigan University offense had been searching for a much needed spark.
In the four GLIAC games, the Wildcats had only scored 36 points with four trips to the end zone.
While last Saturday's game was already out of reach with Michigan Tech leading 34-3 in the third quarter, the Wildcats appeared to finally find the spark necessary to get the offense going.
Northern Michigan University senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak throws during practice on Wednesday inside the Superior Dome in Marquette. Scepaniak will start Saturday for the Wildcats against Grand Valley State with redshirt freshman QB Ryan Morley out due to a concussion. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
That spark, however, just came via the worst way possible.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Morley was knocked out of last week's game with a concussion that will continue to sideline him this week when the Wildcats host No. 14 Grand Valley State at 1 p.m. Saturday as part of Band Day at the Dome.
Morley was 11-of-24 passing for 63 yards and a touchdown before he was left unconscious momentarily on the artificial turf in the third quarter.
In came senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak, who was beat out by Morley during the offseason for the starting job.
Scepaniak finished 7 of 12 for 157 yards and no interceptions. He hit junior wide receiver Christian Jessie on a 77-yard touchdown pass in which the Tech defender on Jessie fell to cut the margin to 34-17.
A blocked Wildcat punt that Tech returned for a touchdown minutes later, however, killed the faintest hope NMU (1-5 overall, 0-5 in GLIAC) had of rallying past their U.P. rivals.
"I've never seen the team like that all year. Just that little spark set a chain reaction," Scepaniak said after the game.
"I've been waiting and working hard all offseason and through camp and things didn't quite go my way. When the opportunity came, I said I'm going to go out there and do the best I can.
"One thing led to another and the team just rallied," he added. "It wasn't so much me, it was the team and the plays the guys made for me."
Scepaniak will start in place of Morley on Saturday. He'll be backed up by true freshman Jay Tollefson against the Lakers (5-1 overall, 4-1 in GLIAC), who are coming off a 40-24 loss to Ferris State.
Scepaniak, a Vestal, N.Y. native, transferred to Northern from Alfred State College in New York the spring before his junior year and won the backup role behind veteran quarterback Carter Kopach.
Scepaniak saw limited action as a junior behind Kopach, completing two of his eight passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. He also had seven rushes for 23 yards.
Last Saturday, however, were the only snaps under center Scepaniak has seen all season.
This week in practice has also the first time Scepaniak spent any serious time working with the first unit.
Since Morley was named the starter at the beginning of training camp, NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky has tossed the redshirt freshman into the fire in hopes of speeding up his development.
Ostrowsky said it wasn't necessary to rotate Scepaniak - who battled a sore elbow in August - in with the first unit because mental reps were all the senior needed.
"His preparation has been excellent," Ostrowsky said about Scepaniak. "His maturity has been good. He wants to be successful, he wants to do well and he's working very hard."
Scepaniak's experience and familiarity with the offense having been in the program since spring of 2011 has helped, though he'll be without a couple of notable faces against GVSU.
Junior wise receiver Christian Marble-King is out for the season with a knee injury and senior running back Prince Young - the Wildcats' leading rusher - is suspended indefinitely for what Ostrowsky called a violation of team rules.
Young was in court on Oct. 4 for a probation violation stemming from a January arrest. Young pled guilty to contempt of court and his sentencing was delayed.
Scepaniak does have the team's top two receivers in Jessie (16 catches, 219 yards and two TDs) and sophomore Julian Gaines (29 catches, 355 yards and a touchdown).
At running back, the Wildcats will turn to sophomore Reggie Bowden and true freshman Austin Young of Escanaba, as well as Jessie. The latter led NMU in rushing against Tech with a trio of plays out of the wildcat formation, including a 15-yard touchdown run.
"I know I will know the offense mentally, so without taking reps, I still know what I have to do to," Scepaniak said. "It's just about playing the game and having the team rally behind you."
NOTE: NMU senior defensive tackle Zach Anderson of Sault Ste. Marie went down with a left ankle injury on Wednesday in practice. He was on crutches Thursday and is questionable for Saturday. Anderson is a half sack behind sophomore linebacker Nick Krause, who leads the team with seven sacks.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.