Coming unglued: Penalties cost Northern Michigan University football team dearly in 28-10 home loss to Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Northern Michigan University quarterback Drake Davis, right, sprints past Wisconsin-Oshkosh defenders Brody Milz, left, and Tyler Staerkel during their game played in the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday. (Photo courtesy NMU)

“It’s going to take character, it’s going to take perseverance, it’s going to take strength, it’s going to take good morals, it’s going to take values — and that’s what we’ll work on.” — Kyle Nystrom, NMU head football coach, on improving after a mistake-laden loss to Wisconsin-Oshkosh


MARQUETTE — Even as an NCAA Division II school, playing a highly ranked Division III football team could be difficult enough of a task without the self-inflicted wounds Northern Michigan University put itself through in a 28-10 season home-opening loss on Saturday afternoon to Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The Wildcats (1-1) committed a whopping 11 penalties just in the first half alone, finishing with 17. That compared unfavorably to just five flags called on the visiting Titans.

NMU moved the ball early on, but were forced to punt on its first three possessions when penalties called back big plays.

Northern Michigan University running back Tyshon King falls after trying to get to a pass thrown during a game played against Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday. (Journal photo by Travis Nelson)

In the grand scheme of things, Northern head coach Kyle Nystrom hopes his team learned a lesson.

“(The penalties were) brutal, I mean they (UW-Oshkosh was) good today, I knew they’d be a good football team,” Nystrom said. “I knew we were in for a real knock-out, drag-out (battle). I felt good about the preparation, we were ready mentally; when things didn’t go our way, we started making it worse with the penalties and you can’t do that.

“You’ve got to focus on being perfect and trying to win a play at a time and not make it worse for yourself, and we didn’t do that.”

The nation’s No. 11 ranked team in Division III, UW-Oshkosh (2-0) took advantage of the Wildcats’ miscues to race to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter with 60- and 58-yard scoring drives. Each was capped off with sophomore quarterback Kobe Berghammer throwing touchdown passes, one to senior tight end Justin Kasuboski of 14 yards and the other to freshman wide receiver Trae Tetzlaff from 13 yards.

With under four minutes left in the half, senior running back Mitch Gerhartz walked into the end zone from 1 yard away, extending the Titans’ lead to 21-0.

With time winding down before the break, NMU’s offense started showing life with big plays by sophomore quarterback Drake Davis. He used his scrambling ability and passes to wide receivers junior Benjamin Loutsis and freshman Wyatt Davis to move Northern effectively.

But with under a minute left in the half, the Wildcats’ drive stalled as junior kicker Daniel Riser drilled a 35-yard field goal to get Northern on the board but still trailing 21-3.

UW-Oshkosh got the ball to start the second half, and immediately drove downfield. However, the Titans couldn’t convert on a third down inside of Wildcats’ territory and junior kicker Jayden Haag pushed his field goal try wide right.

The ‘Cats carried that momentum into its next drive that ended with a 27-yard TD pass from Davis to Loutsis, cutting the deficit to 21-10 with under six minutes left in the third.

Just about the same thing happened on the teams’ next possessions — UW-Oshkosh was stopped and NMU moved across midfield. This time, though, penalties bit Northern again as a big third-down conversion was nullified by a penalty, ending any momentum NMU and forcing a punt.

“We started coming back, back into the game and we couldn’t make plays on defense to just get off the field as fast as we needed to or as much as we needed to,” Nystrom said. “That’s the bottom line, and then we just kept taking penalties.

“We’d get out and Drake had a good scramble for a first down and we got two penalties on a play. So there goes that opportunity, right? We weren’t good today, we weren’t good today.

“We’ll have to do a better job of developing them and getting them to understand how to persevere through adversity; we’re just going to have to do a better job in that department with them.”

The Titans put the game away for good on their next possession with a 14-play, 80-yard TD drive that was capped off with a 1-yard scoring pass from Berghammer to Kasuboski.

Down by 18 points with just over eight minutes to go, the NMU offense stumbled as the game ended.

Berghammer completed 16 of 26 passes for 168 yards and three TDs, also leading the Titans in rushing with 61 yards on 14 carries. Sophomore wide receiver Tony Steger caught three passes for 41 yards, while senior linebacker Nick Noethe had five tackles and a sack.

Davis finished 7 of 14 through the air for 47 yards and a TD while also leading the Wildcats in rushing with 58 yards on 12 carries. Loutsis had four pass receptions for 30 yards and a TD.

UW-Oshkosh held a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in total yards, 359-193, and also had a 25-9 edge in first downs. Though neither team had a fumble or interception, the Titans converted 10 of 13 third downs (77%) to just 2 of 9 (22%) for NMU.

Nystrom said there’s film to be watched in order to improve, but the X’s and O’s weren’t what he was most concerned about.

“The biggest thing we’ve got to do is grow up,” Nystrom said. “We’ve got to grow up and mature, and we have to push through the pain here of what happened today. You’ve got to move forward in a positive light, you cannot let this thing linger and be negative, you can’t make a bad situation worse.

“You’ve got to fight back and do it in the right way. It’s going to take character, it’s going to take perseverance, it’s going to take strength, it’s going to take good morals, it’s going to take values — and that’s what we’ll work on.”

Nystrom felt that coming into the game, the teams were about even as far as skill and talent levels. He also thought his team would have better speed, but they had to have been doing everything else right.

“I think if we did everything right, we could match up,” Nystrom said. “But when you get 375 penalties in a game and you can’t protect the quarterback the way you need to, or you can’t tackle the quarterback on a power read, and things like that, you’re not going to get what you want done.”

Now with another home game coming up at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Superior Dome against Davenport, it’ll be a short turnaround to find out how much the Wildcats can grow.

Though the Panthers and Wildcats are members of the GLIAC, this will be a nonconference game as the teams’ contest to be played in Grand Rapids on Oct. 9 will be the one that counts in the league standings.

Travis Nelson can be reached by email at tnelson@miningjournal.net.


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