MARQUETTE - Normally talkative Northern Michigan University head football coach Chris Ostrowsky was a man of few words Saturday after watching Ferris State University convert a game-winning two-point attempt in the season finale for both GLIAC schools at the Superior Dome in Marquette.
His senior captain and defensive tackle Zach Anderson, on the other hand, was a little more reflective on what transpired - a 32-31 loss to the Bulldogs.
"It goes both ways for me," said Anderson, a Sault Ste. Marie native. "To lose a close game like that is bad and it's good. We didn't get blown out.
"When you start off a season 1-5 and you finish like a team that we did, especially with all the returners coming back, I couldn't wish for any more luck to this team next year. They are going to be phenomenal. Phenomenal.
"It just hits me hard knowing I'm not going to be able to contribute next year."
Bulldogs junior wide receiver Torico Searcy took a pitch from redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Vander Laan, evaded the Northern defense and swept his way into the end zone for two points with nine seconds showing on the Wildcats' shiny new scoreboard.
The successful Ferris conversion left Northern at 4-7 overall and 3-7 in the GLIAC, good for last place in the GLIAC North Division in Ostrowsky's first year as head coach.
NMU started the season slowly - giving up 40-plus points in its losses - but won three of its final five games.
Still, Ostrowsky wanted that fifth win after watching the Wildcats win only four games last year as the team's offensive coordinator.
"It's a tough way to finish," Ostrowsky said. "I thought our kids played hard. I know our kids played hard. It came down to the last play of the game.
"It's a tough one to swallow right now, but when we have time to sit back and reflect, I feel we'll feel pretty good about what we were able to accomplish this year."
Up by seven, NMU senior punter Rockne Belmonte pinned the Bulldogs back on their own 7-yard line with 3:11 remaining on the clock.
Ferris State drove 93 yards on 14 plays, however, with FSU sophomore wide receiver Jake Lampman slipping behind the Wildcat secondary to catch a 14-yard touchdown pass from Vander Laan to cut NMU's lead to one.
Vander Laan finished 6-of-11 passing for 68 yards on the game-winning drive after previously completing only 8-of-14 passes for 70 yards.
"I wouldn't change anything," Ostrowsky said. "We made the right calls. We just needed to make plays."
Until that drive, Ferris had relied heavily on the rushing attack, with only three rushes for 15 yards coming on the winning drive.
The Bulldogs finished with 269 yards rushing on 51 attempts, led by Vander Laan's 25 carries for 121 yards.
"They were running that triple-option all day and running, and running, and running," Anderson said. "They go to the passing game and it's tricky. It's tricky to stop."
NMU junior QB Cody Scepaniak and senior running back Prince Young both ran in touchdowns from short yardage for Northern, while junior wide receiver and kick returner Christian Jessie returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown following a Ferris State field goal.
Scepaniak finished 11-of-19 passing for 157 yards and an interception. He rushed 60 yards on 18 carries - three yards more than Young had on his 11 touches.
Belmonte made three field goals from 23, 29 and 44 yards to finish with an NMU-record 45 career three-pointers..
"Offensively, I thought we had a good day," Scepaniak said. "I wouldn't say we struggled. I would say you have to give them credit. That's a good team. They were 6-4 coming into this game.
"To finish like we did, I don't attribute it to the offense, I don't attribute it to the defense. I attribute it to the team. We were phenomenal and I believe that. I'm glad we did that for the seniors."