MARQUETTE - Despite a slow start, the Northern Michigan University football team put on a show for the crowd in its final home game of the season, defeating Northwood University 34-15 on Saturday from the Superior Dome.
This marks the Wildcats' second consecutive win after a string of five losses, improving their record to 3-5 overall and in the GLIAC.
"Sometimes when you're building something special, it's got to go through some hard times," NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said. "If you're not strong enough to overcome it, you don't deserve to meet success."
Neither the Wildcats nor Timberwolves found scoring success in the first quarter, as six of the game's 11 punts were recorded in the first 15 minutes of play.
The Wildcats kicked off scoring with 14:22 left in the second when true freshman quarterback Shaye Brown found senior wide receiver Christian Jessie in the end zone with a 33-yard touchdown pass.
Brown completed 17 of 27 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns in his third collegiate start for NMU. Ostrowsky said Brown has progressed tremendously over the last few weeks.
"He's been excellent," Ostrowsky said. "We're doing everything we can to give him a step up with classroom stuff, and he's responded."
The Timberwolves responded with a field goal to bring the score to 7-3 in favor of the 'Cats with 8:26 remaining in the second quarter.
With 2:55 left in the half, sophomore Wyatt Jurasin scored his first of two touchdowns Saturday via a 4-yard run.
Northwood nearly scored a touchdown prior to halftime, but the NMU defense held the Timberwolves at the 1-yard line, maintaining its 14-3 lead.
This one just one of several game-changing defensive plays for the Wildcats, which Ostrowsky considers "character plays."
While Northwood had nearly double the first downs - 31 compared to NMU's 16- the 'Cats were able to hold off several scores.
The Northwood offense came into the second half scoring a touchdown on its first drive to narrow the Wildcats' lead to 14-9.
In the next drive, the 'Cats responded with a touchdown on a 34-yard pass from Brown to freshman receiver Keyondre Craig.
"My receivers are awesome," Brown said. "They make amazing plays for me and it seems they're always open. It's just my job to find them."
The Timberwolves worked their way up to field to the 15 yard line and attempted a field goal, which was blocked by senior Brandon Parson in another big defensive play for the 'Cats.
Sophomore safety Thomas McNamara recovered the ball and ran it 58 yards, setting the Wildcats up for a fourth touchdown - a 7-yard toss and catch from Brown to junior wide out Marcus Tucker - with 49 seconds left in the third quarter, bringing the score to 27-9.
"The chemistry is growing tremendously," Tucker said. "As each week goes by, we're trying to make sure we're there when [Brown] needs us to be there so we can connect and can make big plays happen."
After several pooch kickoffs, the Wildcats' McNamara recovered a Northwood fumble at the NU 40-yard line.
Jurasin scored his second TD of the day on the drive from a 13-yards out to put Northern up 34-9 with 13:52 remaining in the third.
"His football-playing aside, his character, his toughness, he's just awesome," Ostrowsky said of Jurasin.
Jurasin led in rushing with 188 yard on 25 attempts. Jessie and Craig each had 69 yards receiving for the 'Cats.
Northwood closed out scoring with a 6-yard pass to Devonta Elzy with 12:41 remaining to play. The Timberwolves were unsuccessful in their two-point conversion attempt.
The Timberwolves reached the 1-yard once more with less than a minute to go, and the Wildcats' defense held off the touchdown yet again.
"I kept joking on the sideline, 'Hey, we can play defense on the other side of the 30,'" NMU senior linebacker Morgan Stenz said. "But for us to get through the adversity and just make those huge stops like we did, you can't ask for more out of your defense."
The Wildcats close out the season with two games on the road, the first against Saginaw Valley State University on Saturday, Nov. 9, and at Ferris State on Nov. 16.
Delaney Lovett can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org