Northern Michigan University football team’s upset bid comes up just short vs. No. 8 Grand Valley, 28-24

Northern Michigan University’s Wyatt Davis, right, just misses making an acrobatic catch whle closely defended by a Grand Valley State player during their college football game played in the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday. (Journal photo by Travis Nelson)

MARQUETTE — Knocking off No. 8-ranked Grand Valley State was going to be a tall task for the Northern Michigan University football team on Saturday, but the Wildcats gave the Lakers a run for their money before falling 28-24.

The Wildcats needed a lot of things to go right with a slim margin for error. Northern (3-5, 1-3 GLIAC) reached the red zone six times, but only found the end zone on two of them. Three drives resulted in field goals, and the other was a fumble by fullback Kyle Sahr at the GVSU 1-yard line.

There were a number of bounces that seemed to go the Lakers’ way. What NMU coach Kyle Nystrom was most proud of from his team’s performance had nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with intangibles.

“I’m disappointed in the end with the scoreboard, but I’m not disappointed with my football team or my staff,” Northern’s head coach said. “Here’s what I said before the game to ’em: ‘I want to see the best effort that you’ve ever given in anything in your life, lay it out there.’

“They did that, there wasn’t any lack of effort that I saw when I watched. Second, I wanted them to be as tough as anything as they could be, tough as an old boot, and they were tough. They played tough.”

The game started out on a high note for the Wildcats. The NMU defense forced a three-and-out to start things off, and the ‘Cats answered with a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

The Lakers (6-1, 3-1) fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Northern kickoff unit pounced on it at the GVSU 24-yard line. Looking to avoid another field goal, quarterback Drake Davis’ pass to Sahr was complete on third and goal, but Sahr fumbled as he was hit crossing the goal line.

Grand Valley then responded with a methodical 94-yard, more than five-minute drive that resulted in a 2-yard Bryce Young-Wells plunge for the touchdown with 54 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

NMU started another solid drive, moving the ball inside of the GVSU 10 again to set up first and goal. Davis lost a yard rushing, then threw incomplete passes to tight end Jake Witt and wide receiver Benjamin Loutsis to bring on fourth down and Daniel Riser for his second field goal to make it 7-6 Lakers.

Grand Valley had another long drive with the same ending of Young-Wells getting into the end zone to put GVSU up 14-6 midway through the second.

GVSU looked to add to its lead just before halftime, but quarterback Cade Peterson’s pass was picked off by NMU safety Brady Hanson and returned into GVSU territory with 2:23 left.

Northern looked solid on the ensuing drive until getting inside the Lakers’ 10 once more. The Wildcats called timeout with one second left on fourth and goal, and came out in field-goal formation. Wide receiver Isaiah Popp was the holder, NMU motioned nearly everyone on the outside, and Popp threw a pass to the back of the end zone to Sahr for a 2-yard TD as time expired, pulling the Wildcats within a single point at the break.

NMU went three-and-out to start the second half, and Grand Valley scored shortly afterward with a 23-yard TD strike from Peterson to wide receiver Jacob Miller to put the Lakers up 21-13 with 9:24 remaining in the third. The rest of the quarter was quiet on the scoreboard.

To start the fourth quarter, Northern had another long drive in the works, moving into the red zone to the Lakers’ 18. Davis was sacked on third down, forcing a third Riser field goal to cut it to 21-16 with 10:16 left.

Needing a stop to stay in the game, the ‘Cats’ defense couldn’t get off the field on third down, including a late-hit penalty that moved the chains for Grand Valley across midfield. On the following play, GVSU made Northern pay with a 37-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass from Peterson to wide receiver Jaylon Tillman to bump the Lakers’ lead to 28-16 with only 7:23 to go.

The ‘Cats needed two touchdowns to win the game, but were only able to get one with a 5-yard scoring pass from Davis to wide receiver Wyatt Davis with 1:15 left.

That drive was 16 plays and over six minutes long when a quick score was needed. Popp caught the 2-point conversion pass to make it 28-24.

It came down to an onside kick recovered by GVSU before Young-Wells picked up a first down to run out the clock.

Statistics were almost even between these conference foes, with GVSU holding relatively small edges of 376-329 in total yards, 230-227 in passing yards, 146-102 in rushing yards and 23-20 in first downs.

NMU had better numbers by running 20 more plays, 74-54, having over 33 minutes of possession and one less turnover.

Davis completed 24 of 37 passes for 225 yards and a TD for the Wildcats. His favorite target was his brother, Wyatt Davis, who caught seven passes for 97 yards and a score. Popp added 58 yards receiving with the 2-point conversion catch and his TD pass on the last play of the first half.

The ‘Cats’ rushing attack was mostly split between wide receiver Tyquan Cox and running back DJ Stewart. Cox led the way with 85 yards on 14 carries, and Stewart added eight rushes for 22 yards.

For Grand Valley, Peterson had an efficient day, completing 17 of 22 passes for 230 yards and two TDs, though his second-quarter interception set up Popp’s touchdown throw.

The road doesn’t get easier for the Wildcats as their downstate trip for 1 p.m. Saturday will be to Big Rapids and the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II, Ferris State.

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


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today