Northern Michigan University football team gets one more try at a win

Northern Michigan University defender Nick Barnes, left, tries to break up a pass intended for Michigan Tech’s Kevin Kirkland in their game played Sept. 30 in Houghton. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by David Archambeau)

Season finale:

• Northwood at Northern Michigan University, 1 p.m. Saturday, Superior Dome

• Senior Day, Veterans Day

• Radio: WUPT 100.3 FM

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MARQUETTE — It’s been a long season for the Northern Michigan University football team.

The Wildcats are 1-8 overall and 1-7 in the GLIAC, the lone victory coming back in mid-September.

But looking at box scores, it appears as if NMU is making progress with each game and head coach Kyle Nystrom feels the same way.

“We’re playing without 25 guys last time I checked and now we’re at 26,” he said. “You just find ways to fight and find ways to compete. Our hearts are in the right spot, our effort is in the right spot and our toughness is in the right spot.

“We just need more horsepower and that will come through development and recruiting. I felt a lot better after the last couple of games about our future than I did maybe earlier in the season, so there are signs of improvement with NMU football. So we have to keep taking steps forward to that.

“Believe me, no one is more disappointed in not being able to do a lot of great things for Northern in the first year than me and the staff. There’s no way a staff can work any more or any harder than what we’re doing right now.”

Now the Wildcats will try to end their season on a high note as they host Northwood at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Superior Dome. The Timberwolves (6-4, 4-4) are coming off a win over Saginaw Valley State and had won three in a row before that until a loss to Ferris State two weeks ago.

Northern will have a tough task as Northwood runs a triple-option offense, something rare in college football these days. It heavily emphasizes rushing the ball, which will pose problems for a Wildcats’ defense that is last in the GLIAC against the run.

“I’ve got triple option on my brain right now,” Nystrom said. “This is the best Northwood team I’ve seen since I’ve been in the league. They’ve done a really nice job recruiting and they’ve got better skill than they’ve had in the previous two years. They’re a triple-option team and a double-option team. They’ve really grown into the ‘power read’ with their scheme. It’s a nice feature for them because it’s got some similar mechanisms in it and they’re really good at it.

“To beat them, you have to score points and they’re very good on defense. I’ve watched them on defense the past couple of weeks because they’re matched up with who we’re playing.

“I really like their defensive ends. They’ve got some nice guys on defense that we’re going to have to manage. On defense, we’re going to have to manage the run game and not give up the deep ball because that’s what they do.”

Northwood is second in the GLIAC in rushing yards per game (194.6) and due to its option attack, it doesn’t have one dominant runner as the carries are shared by quarterback Joe Garbarino and running backs Andre Carter and Dominick Giovinazzo.

Defensively, the Timberwolves are solid against the run (fourth in the GLIAC in yards allowed per game), but are awful against the pass (ninth out of 10 in ypg). The Wildcats’ passing attack has improved since the start of the year and if it can finally kick it in gear, NMU could have a field day.

Northern’s offense had a pretty good outing last week against Wayne State, outgaining the Warriors as quarterback Ryan Johnson put up 272 yards through the air including a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter.

However, WSU snatched the lead back and the Wildcats were forced to put together a desperate drive in the final minute. NMU made it into Warriors territory, but Johnson was intercepted with 28 seconds left to seal the win for Wayne State.

“We got ourselves off the field and I don’t remember exactly how much time was left, but we were in what we call a ‘mayday situation,’ which we practice live twice a week,” Nystrom said. “So I felt good about it. We had two timeouts left and the phones were working well so we had everything managed and we knew that if we got to the 30-yard line and the left hash, that was Dalton (Ray)’s best kick. We were in good shape.

“We threw a couple of quick outs to Dallas (Dixon) to get out of bounds so we don’t burn timeouts. We’re moving the ball and I think we were on their 45 and we turned it over. That was a big Debbie Downer there. We were in good position to take the game, and we didn’t make it happen. It was just another example of us not being able to capitalize on a situation or an opportunity.

“It took us the first two series to match speed, tempo and execution and they went right down the field on us. That was disheartening, but once we weathered the storm, we got in the saddle and started to turn the game a little bit and got back in it.

“In the second half, it was nip and tuck. They got ahead with that field goal and then we got the ball back and it was that final drive. We were prepared for it. We were playing with a lot of freshmen.

“I can’t wait till the day where we can capitalize on those. It’ll come.”

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