After tough loss at Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan University football team regroups for Ashland

Kyle Nystrom

MARQUETTE — Last weekend, the Northern Michigan University football team rolled into Houghton hoping to end a seven-game losing streak to archrival Michigan Tech.

Instead, the Wildcats came up short again and the Miners Cup stayed in the Copper Country for another year.

NMU (1-3, 1-2 GLIAC) will have to put that loss behind them as a powerful Ashland, Ohio, team comes to Marquette and the Superior Dome for a 1 p.m. game on Saturday.

The Eagles (4-1, 3-0) have three blowout wins so far and took down then-No. 2 Ferris State 20-3 at home two weeks ago.

Wildcats head coach Kyle Nystrom didn’t mince words Tuesday about the situation he has to deal with and made it clear that his team’s current problems on the field didn’t just pop up.

“Our issues were caused not just Saturday night and at fall camp,” he said. “Our issues were previous and that’s OK. We’ll play the cards that we’re dealt and we’re going to play through it.

“Our players right now are fighting and playing as tough as they can with as much effort as they can and right now, their sword is broken. My problem as coach and our staff’s problem right now is that we have to get them over it because it’s lingering right now.

“We have arguably the best team in the country coming here to play. They are the real deal. We don’t have time to complain and feel bad about last Saturday’s game because it won’t give us a chance to win.

“We need to compete in this one so we need to prepare to win and go play and be a good football team and we have to put that behind us.”

Ashland is a pass-heavy offense that relies heavily on the arm of quarterback Travis Tarnowski. He leads the conference is both passing yards per game (241) and touchdowns (13), so it could pose problems for NMU’s shaky secondary.

It doesn’t get better for the Wildcats offense, as the Eagles’ defense is third in the GLIAC against the run and stopped Ferris’ powerful rushing attack in its tracks.

So Northern will have to get its passing game going if it wants to keep up with the high-flying Eagles.

Nystrom had a lot of praise for Ashland, who he got to see many times when he coached at Ferris State the past two seasons.

“I played these guys at Ferris and I think they’re the best team in the league,” he said. “There’s no weakness on their offense. Their line is very good and they’re well coached. They’re big on their feet and they’ve been around for a while. Their wideouts are unbelievable. That group is probably the best I’ve ever seen at one time.

“Their quarterback is very good. He can make any throw you want. He can manage the offense. He’s just that guy.

“Running back (Andrew Vaughn) is a difference maker too. That’s just Ashland. The way they go about their football is top-notch. They’re loaded and they’re very well coached.”

Toppling Ashland will be difficult, but Nystrom has faith in his team and likes what he’s seen from freshman quarterback Ryan Johnson, who was thrust into the starting role against Davenport two weeks ago.

“I’m in that kid’s corner because he just got out of high school and now he has to go play Ashland,” Nystrom said. “I like what he’s doing. We just need to find ways to be more consistent, work through our difficulties and find ways to improve.”

Nystrom has said it several times since the season started, but he knows the situation he’s in and is just focusing on getting his team better each week.

“When I came to Northern, I knew what the road was going to be like,” he said. “I don’t spill my guts and growing up with (former NMU assistant coach) Buck (Nystrom), it gets you ready. The programs that I’ve been with, that’s a hot fire. When you go through those experiences and come to a job like this, it’s OK.

“The biggest thing is I’ve got to get our players over the hump. What we ask in this program is that you have to play with toughness and effort. You don’t have to be perfect, because no one ever is, but if you do that, that’s all anyone can ask. If that’s what you did, so be it. “

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.