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A single point short

MARQUETTE – All good things eventually come to an end and that happened to the Northern Michigan University football team on Saturday afternoon when the Wildcats’ five-game home winning streak was snapped.

That didn’t mean that the Wildcats didn’t make things entertaining. Down by two scores to start the second half, NMU (4-4) came all the way back to take a five-point lead late in the fourth quarter.

However, Ashland quarterback Travis Tarnowski threw a 10-yard touchdown with seven seconds remaining to earn a hard-fought 41-40 win for the Eagles. Tight end Adam Shaheen made a leaping catch in double coverage to give Ashland the victory and keeping the Eagles undefeated at 8-0.

“I thought from an offensive perspective it was obviously a special day,” NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said. “That’s as good of a defense as there is in this league. We were balanced and I felt that we had a lot of guys contribute.

“Our offensive line competed and our quarterback played well. I don’t believe we had any turnovers on the day. I thought we made enough plays to win.”

Although he said he didn’t believe in moral victories, Ostrowsky acknowledged how far his program has come in the last couple of seasons.

“At the end of the year, it’s going to be a loss,” he said. “At the same time, I do understand how far we’ve come as a program. The strides that we’ve made have been extraordinary in three years. We’re just taking the long path. We need the football gods to maybe throw some dust on us, but we’re going to keep working at it.”

Quarterback Shaye Brown and running back Terrance Dye led the Wildcats offense. Brown finished 30 of 49 passing for 371 yards and three touchdowns, while Dye had 104 yards on the ground and a TD.

The Wildcats started their rally after catching a break late in the third quarter. A botched Ashland punt gave NMU the ball on the Eagles 15-yard line. However, NMU had to settle for a Tyler Blackburn field goal and were still two scores down to the Eagles at 35-24.

Northern did get into the end zone on its next drive as Dye scampered into the end zone on a short run to cut its deficit to four points at the end of the third.

NMU whittled Ashland’s lead to one point midway through the fourth. A good run by Dye and a long pass play helped push the ball into Eagles territory, but the Wildcats were forced to settle for a field goal again. Northern was down 35-34.

After looking so strong in the first half, the Eagles’ offense sputtered in the fourth quarter as Tarnowski was picked off for the third time.

He had a receiver wide open, but didn’t see safety Julian Hornback coming over and was intercepted.

Northern took advantage of the opportunity as the Wildcats marched downfield and notched their first lead of the game on a 16-yard run by Jake Mayon. The 2-point conversion failed and the Wildcats led 40-35 with a little more than three minutes left.

“I think it shows a lot about our heart,” Hornback said. “This team has a lot of heart. We fight till the end. We never really count ourselves out of a game.

“We know that despite our record, we are one of the best teams in this league. We’re right there every single game.”

However, Northern couldn’t finish the job as Ashland pounded the ball upfield and Tarnowski found Shaheen in the end zone for the winning score with just seconds remaining.

In the first half, Ashland showed off its potent offense early, building a 21-0 lead less than five minutes into the second quarter.

On its opening two possessions, Eagles back Vance Settlemire scored from 12 and 13 yards out and Ashland led 14-0.

Ashland’s passing game continued to soar into the second quarter. A 37-yard pass down the right sideline from Tarnowski to Terrance Burt brought the ball to the NMU 1-yard line. Seconds later, Michael Young trotted into the end zone to put the Eagles up by three TDs.

That was the start of a combined 42-point second quarter by the teams.

NMU struck quickly. Aided by a 34-yard kickoff return by Marcus Tucker, the Wildcats scored in 70 seconds after a nice run by Dye and then a 35-yard TD pass from Brown to Escanaba’s Austin Young, who made an acrobatic leaping catch in the end zone.

The Wildcats didn’t have long to celebrate as a 39-yard run by Ashland’s Adam Shaheen helped the Eagles score on a 3-yard run before another two minutes had elapsed.

NMU answered with a 10-yard TD pass from Brown to Keyondre Craig, but the Eagles passing game continued to find holes in the Wildcats secondary as Tarnowski hit a wide-open Matthew Wilcox with a 53-yard score.

NMU added a touchdown before the break on a short pass to Edward Christian to go into half down 35-21.

NMU travels to Walsh for an 8 p.m. kickoff on Saturday.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.