MARQUETTE - Not many people believed the Northern Michigan University football team could beat No. 14-rankled Grand Valley State University Saturday.
"We did," Wildcat head coach Chris Ostrowsky said after his team stunned the Lakers, 38-10, before 2,217 spectators at the Superior Dome on Band Day.
"We prepared all week to win. The kids believed and they showed it today.
Northern Michigan quarterback Cody Scepaniak, center, runs upfield with Grand Valley State’s Luther Ware, left, and Ricky Thomas in pursuit during the first half at the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday afternoon. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
"It's a big-time win ... a huge win," he added. "The players were able to believe in what we wanted done and they've worked hard every day. It's a great feeling right now."
It's the first time NMU (2-5 overall, 1-5 GLIAC) has beaten GVSU (5-2, 4-2) since a 29-28 victory in 2000.
In his first collegiate start after replacing the injured Ryan Morley, Wildcat senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak ran for two scores and threw for another, teammate Rockne Belmonte booted a school-record 58-yard field goal and the much-maligned NMU defense intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles.
"Our (team) motto during the week was 'believe'," Scepaniak said. "That's what we did. We believed in each other and it turned out great for us."
A major reason why was Scepaniak. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 218 yards and one interception. Scepaniak also gained 115 yards rushing on 20 carries and scored on runs of 15 and 20 yards.
"He was efficient, strong, in great command in what we wanted," Ostrowsky said. "His preparation was outstanding all week. He was very good."
So was an NMU defense that allowed the Lakers - playing without sophomore starting QB Isiah Grimes due to a reported upper body injury - just 263 total yards.
Wildcat defenders sacked GVSU redshirt freshman QB Brandon Beitzel twice and held him to 9 of 24 passing for just 78 yards. Northern sophomore free safety Derek Beltrame of Ishpeming picked off two of Beitzel's aerials.
"That's six straight good quarters for our defense," Ostrowsky said. "Last week, they shut Michigan Tech out (in the second half), and now, they ran to the football and believed in the scheme.
"Sometimes, it takes time for kids to gel. Obviously, it's starting to turn the other way right now."
NMU led 14-3 early in the second quarter before GVSU closed the gap to four points on a 1-yard TD run by Hersey Jackson. It was set up by a 33-yard jaunt by Kirk Spencer that brought the ball into Northern territory.
But Belmonte gave the Wildcats a 17-10 advantage just before halftime with his record field goal with 15 seconds on the clock.
"The past two weeks, Coach 'O' has been giving me (field goal) chances (in practice) under pressure of 56, 57 or 59 yards," the senior said. "I've been working to nail them all.
"The offensive line gave me a lot of time back there. As soon as I hit it (I knew) it was gone. It gave us some momentum to finish off Grand Valley at the end."
The Wildcats attempted the field goal on third-and-7 from the GVSU 41.
"We were out of timeouts and we had thrown the ball to the sideline (on the previous play)," Ostrowsky said. "I thought (the play) was inbounds and I hurried the field goal unit out there.
"Had I known the clock had been stopped, I probably would have run one more play."
After an apparent NMU safety was nullified by a GVSU timeout just before the fourth-quarter play was run and the Wildcats leading 24-10, Beltrame picked off his second Beitzel pass at the Lakers' 22.
Three plays later, Scepaniak ran 20 yards for his second TD to put the game away.
"We did a great job disguising our defensive coverages," Ostrowsky said of his team's interceptions, which included ones by Brandon Parson and Levi Perry.
Game notes: Wildcat junior running back Casey Cotta, in uniform for a game for the first time in two years, scored twice to go with a team-high 130 yards rushing ... Belmonte's field goal topped the NMU record of 55 yards set by Greg Guthrie in 1986 against Northeast Missouri ... Spencer rushed for 145 yards for GVSU ... Beitzel had thrown - and completed - only one pass this season prior to Saturday ... sophomore cornerback Nick Krause led NMU with nine tackles (four solo and three for a loss) and a sack.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.