Playing power ball
Run game leads Wildcats to first win of season
MARQUETTE — Running the football is the game plan for most high school teams in the Upper Peninsula.
The Northern Michigan University team isn’t much different, but the Wildcats probably didn’t expect it to have the explosive effect that it did in their home opener Saturday in the Superior Dome.
Behind the power running of Jake Mayon, the Wildcats racked up 337 yards on the ground and held on late in the fourth quarter to pick up their first win of the season, 27-22 over Texas-Permian Basin.
Mayon finished with 224 rushing yards and also cracked the 3,000-yard mark for his career.
When asked about the career achievement, though, Mayon shifted the attention to his teammates and his lineman while acknowledging that it did mean a lot to him.
“It means something,” he said. “I want to thank my linemen. Those are the hardest working guys on the field and my favorite position is those guys. I love them. That’s their achievement as well.
“It (the win) means everything to us. That’s what we expect out of our program because we work so hard for it year-round. That’s what we really want and we expect that week in and week out.”
Wildcats head coach Kyle Nystrom said Mayon is comparable to the great backs of the past at NMU and praised him for his ability to make something out of nothing.
“He reminds me of the backs of the glory years,” Nystrom said. “He’s like those guys to me. When you measure productivity for what someone is doing at NMU, he’s right there with that group.
“He made a lot of plays out there and he was out there on his own a few times, but he made plays, and on other plays we blocked really well. Our run game was really good.”
In addition to all those yards, Mayon gave NMU a much-needed cushion in the fourth quarter. With the Wildcats only up four points, the senior followed his blockers along the Northern sideline and trotted untouched into the end zone to help extend NMU’s advantage to 27-16.
The Wildcats drove the field on the first possession of the game. Mayon busted loose for a 35-yard run up the middle and two plays later, Deandre Caldwell was in the end zone after a 23-yard scamper. With Daniel Riser’s extra point, Northern led 7-0.
NMU added a short Riser field goal the next time it had the ball after reaching the 1-yard line.
But the Falcons were in the midst of a scoring drive when the first quarter ended, using their passing game to drive to the NMU 18. Five seconds into the second, quarterback Sam Allen connected with Ben Galaviz on a fade route in the far corner of the end zone for a touchdown and with the extra point, PB only trailed 10-7.
NMU struck again late in the first half. First-down runs by Giles and Mayon brought the ball deep into Falcons’ territory. Giles hit a wide-open Ben Loutsis in the back of the end zone for a TD, and with the extra point, Northern led 17-7 at the half.
NMU took the ball to the PB 4 the first time it had the ball in the second half, but again had to settle for a short Riser field goal.
The Falcons answered with their own field goal, but later the ‘Cats blocked another field goal kick to keep it 20-10 early in the fourth.
The Falcons were still able to draw close when Allen found Mitchell Johnson for a 19-yard touchdown pass with plenty of time left, though NMU blocked the extra point to maintain a 20-16 lead.
After Mayon capped off a 6 1/2-minute drive with his touchdown run, making it 27-16, PB found the end zone a final time as Allen hit Johnson again with a 31-yard strike with 2:21 remaining.
“I appreciate the win,” Nystrom said. “We’ll be happy for 24 hours, but then we’ve got to move on to next week because we’ve got Grand Valley (State) and everybody knows how good they are.”
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com.