MARQUETTE - In a spring football season where a much-improved Northern Michigan University defense often got the best of the Wildcats' offense, quarterback Cody Scepaniak and wide receiver Christian Jessie were able to extract a bit of revenge on Saturday.
Northern's senior leaders connected on a 45-yard pass play up the middle in the first half as the green-wearing offense was able to squeak out a 42-38 victory over the white-wearing defense in the annual spring game inside the Superior Dome.
"We have some plays that we can throw in there and probably get the best of many defenses," Jessie said. "I think we did that a little bit today in the second quarter, but overall they played us pretty much even, or they may pretty much have got the best of us."
Scepaniak, who will enter training camp in August as the starting QB, also completed a 22-yard third-down play to junior wide out Kelvin Smarwt and a 33-yard pass down the left sideline to sophomore receiver Trey Hipke.
Scepaniak never led NMU back into the end zone, however, with one drive producing a field goal, two drives resulting in missed field goals and the interception of a batted ball by junior defensive lineman Jordan Adediran of Gwinn capped another drive.
"This is one of the most intricate defenses in the GLIAC, if not the most," Scepaniak said. "They do a great job.
Northern Michigan University running back Joe Neeb (46) dives into the end zone during the NMU Spring Football Game on Saturday inside the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
"If they can stop us, that means they can stop a lot of people. Two good sides of the ball is going to do a lot for us this year."
Including Adediran's INT, the NMU defense forced three turnovers, plus a safety.
Redshirt freshman Keshawn Walker picked off junior transfer QB Dustin Thomas out of Villanova in the first half, then recovered a fumble in the second half.
Thomas, who was leading the second-team offense, was also sacked in the end zone in the second half by redshirt freshman defensive lineman Rami Jergess and sophomore Steven Chuhran.
Unofficially, four plays were blown dead by what would have been sacks had the QBs not been protected from hits on Saturday.
"What was exciting for me as the head coach is I thought our defense really came out and played fast early and came up with a bunch of three-and-outs," head coach Chris Ostrowsky said. "Then the second quarter came and our offense was able to keep their composure and have a couple huge plays. I think the throw to Christian Jessie is as good a play as you'll see."
The defense forced the offense to go three and out on four of its first five possessions before sophomore running back Joe Neeb scored the first TD of the game using 5- and 4-yard runs.
Like the passing game, the offense found found sparks on the ground as well, getting 10-yard darts from Smarwt and Neeb; an 11-yard run by junior RB Wyatt Jurasin of Ishpeming; a 13-yard scamper from Thomas to set up first and goal from the 9 yard line for Neeb; a 16-yard sprint by redshirt freshman Keon Collier; and a 23-yard run from sophomore wide receiver Terrance Dye.
"That's the kind of offense we have," Ostrowsky said. "You can be struggling a little bit, and then all of a sudden, it can get after you in a hurry. I thought that was excellent.
"I know there were a couple big runs Wyatt made and Keon played well late. Trey Hipke made a great play up the sideline.
"Today was a good day of both sides executing and playing."
NOTES: Redshirt freshman kicker Jason Seeke finished 1 for 4 on field goals, missing twice from 51 yards and once from 41 yards. He made a 43-yarder. ... The game used fantasy football type scoring system with the offense accumulating points via first downs, plays over 20 yards, fourth-down conversions and the traditional means of TDs and FGs. The defense was awarded points for tackles for loss, turnovers, sacks and traditional scores. ... NMU honored members of the NMU football team from 1965-72, who were in town for a reunion, including former University of Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. ... Saturday's game featured a rotation of about 32 referees who were a part of a joint officiating clinic put on by the GLIAC and MHSAA.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens