MARQUETTE - Despite a comeback attempt in the second half, the Northern Michigan University football team fell to Hillsdale 27-17 on Saturday at the Superior Dome in Marquette to fall to 1-3 overall on the season.
"We're just disappointed in going on the football field and not bringing success where I think so many people want it and deserve it," NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said.
The 'Cats had a slow start, falling behind 17-3 to the Chargers in the first half.
The team made some adjustments at halftime and scored its first touchdown of the game on the opening drive of the second half via an 8-yard TD run by junior quarterback Dustin Thomas.
"As a coaching staff, we made some adjustment that we thought would be successful by the way (the Chargers) were playing things in the first half, and they were," Ostrowsky said. "In contrast, I thought (Hillsdale) did a great job after that drive adjusting to our adjustments."
NMU held the Chargers off through the rest of the third period, but Hillsdale scored on a 25 yard TD pass by Sam Landry to Andrew Mott.
Northern Michigan University quarterback Dustin Thomas runs with the ball against Hillsdale on Saturday at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
The 'Cats responded 14 seconds later on the kickoff return, however.
After several short return attempts earlier in the game, senior Christian Jessie finally broke through the Chargers kickoff coverage, running 97 yards for a Wildcat touchdown.
"He's a threat every time he touches the ball," Ostrowsky said about Jessie. "If we block effectively, he's gone. That was an amazing return at that point in the game and it really lit us up."
Jessie said the kick return team has been close to scoring all year, and Hillsdale had a good game plan to counter the 'Cats even after the TD.
Jessie was pushed out of bounds at NMU's own 8 yard line on his next return attempt.
"They knew we were going to go to the wide side of the field, so they cut it off down the middle and we couldn't make it to that side," Jessie said. "It felt really good to finally be able to do (score a TD)."
With more than double the yards rushing of any other player in the game - 131 - Thomas made an impression in his first start for NMU.
Thomas filled in for senior Cody Scepaniak after an injury took him out of last Saturday's game against Ashland University. Ostrowsky said the team had settled into Scepaniak being quarterback, so adjustments have been made to incorporate Thomas.
"He's an athletic kid, there's no question about it," Ostrowsky said. "He brings a skill set and we've got to create a comfort zone with him. You've got to change things a little bit because your personality changes when your quarterback changes."
Thomas said he is grateful to be playing and has received strong support from both the offensive and defensively players surrounding him. Thomas said the Wildcats offense struggled against Hillsdale, especially when the Chargers realized the quarterback's rushing potential.
"We did our best to play both the run and the pass," Thomas said. "But when you start getting down, you have to turn to the pass. As a defense, once the offense becomes one dimensional it's a little easier."
Especially in the first half, Ostrowsky said he felt the offense was out of sync, and that NMU was unable to find success on some relatively low risk plays.
"You can't turn turn a ball over, you can't give short fields," Ostrowsky said. "Offensively today, we just weren't there. There's no question about it."
In contrast, the defense played great, Ostrowsky said. Northern posted four sacks for a total of 38 yards with two and a half credited to redshirt freshman Adam Williams.
"If we can continue to play great defense that way, we'll be in every game in the end," Ostrowsky said. "You don't ever want to count us out."
NOTES: The Wildcats travel to Houghton next weekend to battle Michigan Tech for the Miner's Cup. ... Besides Scepaniak, NMU was without starting linebackers Morgan Stenz and Loran Jaddou, plus punter/kicker Jon Linkenheimer. ... Right guard Peter Hagermoser left the game with a leg injury in the first half and sat out the entire second half.