Northern Michigan University Wildcats football team falls to 0-3 after homecoming loss to Wisconsin-La Crosse, 34-3

Running out onto the Superior Dome field in Marquette before a game against Wisconsin-La Crosse on Saturday are Northern Michigan University football players, from left, junior wide receiver Michael Love, sophomore running back Kadrien Johnson (partially hidden), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Daniel Babcock, fifth-year running back Tyquan Cox, sophomore offensive lineman Jack Chappelle and graduate student cornerback Bo Bell. (Photo courtesy NMU)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University football team is still seeking its first win under new head coach Shane Richardson as the Wildcats fell to Wisconsin-La Crosse 34-3 in NMU’s homecoming game played at the Superior Dome on Saturday afternoon.

Northern’s only points came with one second left in the first half when Michael Karlen connected on a 44-yard field goal, leaving the Wildcats down 24-3 at halftime.

While NMU fell to 0-3 as a member of NCAA Division II, the Eagles improved to 2-1 and are nationally ranked at No. 14 in Division III. It’s the second straight time UW-La Crosse has beaten a GLIAC team after the Eagles pulled off the feat with a 28-21 victory at Wayne State a year ago.

Northern now hits the road for three straight weeks, starting with a game at Quincy (Illinois) on Saturday before the Wildcats begin their GLIAC schedule with contests at two-time Division II national champion Ferris State on Sept. 30 and at Davenport on Oct. 7.

On Saturday, NMU kept up with the Eagles in a few statistical categories. The Wildcats were only outgained on the ground 161-126 as Northern’s Tyquan Cox was the game’s leading rusher with 84 yards on 21 carries.

In addition, NMU didn’t turn the ball over as the Wildcats’ Davion Brooks made an interception of La Crosse quarterback Keyser Helterbrand early in the second quarter.

But Northern was seemingly behind the eight-ball as new starting QB Mariano Valenti, a transfer from Division I Temple, was out with an injury, according to a game reported by NMU Sports Information. Instead, junior Jake Bilitz filled in by completing 9 of 14 passes for 42 yards. Freshman Aidan Hoard also came in for the Wildcats’ final drive and completed 3 of 7 aerials for 32 yards.

Overall, La Crosse finished with a 429-200 edge in total yards, rolling up a 268-74 advantage through the air as Helterbrand completed 19 of 23 passes for 217 yards, while Zach Weir mopped up by completing all three of his tosses for another 51 yards.

Ryan Bartol caught six passes for the Eagles for 90 yards and two first-half touchdowns, while Sam Peiffer led Northern receivers with five catches for 36 yards.

La Crosse also had nearly 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession and first downs, keeping the ball for just short of 40 minutes compared to 20 minutes for NMU, and making 23 first downs compared to the Wildcats’ 12.

Mitch Larkin led NMU tacklers with 15, including five solo as he shared a QB sack with Jake Price, and Caleb Wright had a full sack. Teammate Jax Hertel had a pass breakup, while Wright, Price and Jhermari Mabry each had a QB hit. Brennan Brockel was second in tackles with 10, including one for a loss.

La Crosse scored on each of its first three possessions to take a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. The first Eagles’ possession that ended without points was because of Brooks’ interception.

Helterbrand scored the game’s first points on a 2-yard TD plunge less than five minutes in, then Bartol caught a 7-yard scoring pass about 6 1/2 minutes later. The Wildcats kept La Crosse to a 36-yard field goal by Michael Stack on the next drive early in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, NMU’s offense managed just one first down in its first three possessions before Brooks made his pickoff at the La Crosse 35-yard line.

On the possession following the interception, Northern gained a pair of first downs and drove to the Eagles’ 4 before Karlen missed a 22-yard field goal attempt just before the midpoint of the second period.

La Crosse took over at its own 20 and marched 80 yards for a back-breaking TD when Bartol caught a 9-yard scoring pass from Helterbrand that made it 24-0 with 67 seconds left before halftime.

Maybe it wasn’t a back-breaker, though, as the Wildcats took the ensuing kickoff and marched 36 yards, making three first downs, to set up Karlen’s successful 44-yard field goal try with a single tick left on the clock.

Northern’s offense and defense had to come up big to pull off a successful second-half comeback. The defense did its job, keeping La Crosse off the scoreboard in the third, but NMU’s offense also couldn’t produce any points despite driving into Eagles’ territory twice in the third. The second time resulted a Karlen 31-yard field goal try that missed.

The Eagles finally broke through on a 14-play, 68-yard drive that consumed nearly 8 1/2 minutes over the first half of the final quarter. But La Crosse had to settle for a 28-yard Stack field goal when Larkin and Price combined for their sack of Helterbrand and the Eagles faced fourth down at the NMU 10.

La Crosse got one more somewhat cheap TD when a punt by Northern’s Owen Halverson was partially blocked and went for seven yards, resulting in a short field for the Eagles culminated by a Weir 1-yard run with 3:41 left.

With Hoard in at QB in the waning minutes, he tried seven passes as he and Cox each had a rush that ended with the Wildcats’ turning the ball over on downs near midfield.

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


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