Mighty challenge: Winless Northern Michigan University Wildcats football team travels to face nation’s No. 1 team, Ferris State

Northern Michigan University’s Noah Dobert, left, gains a few yards with a juke before he is tackled by Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Brennan Gorlaski, front right, during their college football game played at the Superior Dome in Marquette on Sept. 16. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University football team has a mighty challenge in front of it after it crosses the Mighty Mac to open its GLIAC season on Saturday afternoon.

The Wildcats head south for a 3 p.m. game in Big Rapids to play Ferris State, the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II. NMU (0-4) won’t be facing an undefeated team as the Bulldogs (2-1) lost to Division I Montana 17-10 two weeks ago. Montana was No. 11 at the time in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA.

Fans can listen to the game on radio station WUPT 100.3 FM The Point, follow the team @NMU_Football and @NMU_Wildcats on X (formerly Twitter), or go to the NMU athletics website at nmuwildcats.com and look under the football team’s schedule for links to live statistics and FloFootball livestream video.

Northern first-year head coach Shane Richardson is keeping an upbeat look at the game despite the big challenge.

“We have to keep the big picture in mind and keep winning little battles at a time,” he said in a game preview provided by NMU Sports Information. “I give our guys credit as they’ve stayed committed to the process.

“A lot of out goals are still on the table, we want to keep improving every week and show competitive excellence every week.”

The Wildcats were competitive for the second time in three weeks, losing at Quincy (Illinois) 45-27 after trailing just 14-13 in the middle of the third quarter.

Quarterback Mariano Valenti, a transfer from D-I Temple, completed 34 of 49 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns as he ran in for a third TD. He was the first NMU QB to throw for more more than 350 yards since Ryan Johnson accomplished the feat with 363 yards vs. Saginaw Valley State on Oct. 21, 2017.

Sam Peiffer was Northern’s leading receiver with nine catches for 94 yards, including a TD, as five NMU players each caught at least four passes. Tyquan Cox led Northern rushers with 70 yards in 16 tries as he also caught a TD pass while making five catches for 66 yards.

And the Wildcats could claim some accomplishment in Quincy’s passing game, too, as Drake Davis, who transferred from NMU after last season, went 25 of 39 passing for 352 yards and three TDs through the air and one on the ground.

Despite being the only winless team in the GLIAC as no conference team has played a league game yet, Valenti is third among GLIAC QBs with 221.7 yards passing per game, while Peiffer is tied for third in receiving TDs with two and Cox is fifth in rushing yards per game with 66.8.

On defense, Wildcats freshman linebacker Jax Hertel is tied for second in the conference with two interceptions, while teammate Mitch Larkin is tied for fifth with 40 tackles.

And the Northern team is the least penalized squad in the GLIAC, averaging 4.3 penalties per game for 129 total yards, both numbers also in the top 10 nationally.

Meanwhile, Ferris is not only No. 1 in Division II, but the two-time defending national champions. In their most recent game, the Bulldogs produced 285 yards offense against Division I Montana, though QB Milik Mitchell only completed 10 of 21 passes for 103 yards as teammate Carson Gulker was 5 of 8 through the air for 53 more yards.

Ferris held a 10-3 lead at halftime as Xavier Wade scored on an 11-yard TD reception and Eddie Jewett kicked a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter. Montana scored two TDs in the third to take the lead and held on with no scoring in the final period.

Despite Northern’s struggles last season, the Wildcats were one of only six teams to score at least 20 points on FSU in a 56-20 setback on Oct. 29. Ferris’ only loss last season was a 22-21 barnburner against Grand Valley State, which the Bulldogs avenged with a 24-21 win over the Lakers in the third round of the D-II playoffs.

In three games this season, Ferris is averaging 445 yards per game, including 224.3 passing and 220.7 rushing as the Bulldogs also recorded a 54-12 win over Mercyhurst and 38-28 victory at Ashland.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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