November 27, 2021

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Beating themselves: Northern Michigan University Wildcats’ football team loses Miners Cup for 11th time in a row with another heartbreaking loss to Michigan Tech | News, Sports, Jobs

This collage shows the sequence of events that led to the go-ahead touchdown scored by Northern Michigan University in the third quarter of their GLIAC football game played against Michigan Tech at the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday. In the inset at left, quarterback Drake Davis makes the throw that is caught by his brother, Wyatt Davis, in the main photo, as he is defended by MTU’s Jacob Newman. In the inset at right, Wyatt Davis celebrates the TD. (Photos, collage courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“When it’s third-and-long and you miss 6 tackles on a guy you’ve been tackling all day, you can’t do that.” — Kyle Nystrom, NMU head football coach, on a late-game breakdown on defense

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MARQUETTE — It seems whenever Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech lock horns on the football field, the Wildcats find a new way to fall short.

Late-game mistakes are what cost NMU this time around on Saturday in the Superior Dome as the visiting Huskies won 21-14.

In the final five minutes, the ‘Cats (3-4, 1-2 GLIAC) threw a red-zone interception, missed a 41-yard field goal that would’ve given them the lead, missed multiple tackles on a third-down run and had a broken coverage that led to the game-winning touchdown with 18 seconds left.

Northern Michigan University’s Brady Hanson dives in an attempt to recover a fumble by Michigan Tech’s Hunter Richards during the second quarter of their GLIAC football game played at the Superior Dome in Marquette on Saturday. Following behind Hanson is teammate DJ Hutcherson, as the fumble was caused by NMU’s Antonio Howard Jr. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

The Huskies’ connection of quarterback Will Ark and wide receiver Jordan Janssen was potent all day, but no play was bigger than their 31-yard hookup for the game-winning score in the final minute that secured Michigan Tech’s 11th straight Miners Cup win.

“We bust a coverage, we’re playing man free and some other guys think we’re playing in quarters,” NMU coach Kyle Nystrom said about his team’s defensive coverage on the play. “We’re not playing quarters.”

Setting up that score was a 12-yard rush by MTU running back William Marano on 3rd-and-8 to extend the drive with under a minute to go. The Wildcats missed a few tackles on that play, otherwise it would’ve gotten them off the field and given them one last chance to win.

“You can’t let things get away from you,” Nystrom said. “When you have opportunities to score, you gotta score. When it’s third-and-long and you miss six tackles on a guy you’ve been tackling all day, you can’t do that, you have to get off the field.”

Prior to the final drive, Northern had two possessions inside of the MTU 35-yard line for a chance to take the lead. After picking up a first down at the 30, ‘Cats quarterback Drake Davis threw a pass directly to MTU linebacker and Newberry High School graduate John Paramski for an interception.

An NMU sack by defensive linemen John McMullen and Edward Pierson pushed Tech back inside of its 5-yard line to force a punt. Northern had the ball at the Huskies’ 28 with 2:43 left and a second chance to right the wrongs of the previous drive. Picking up a first down would’ve set up NMU with the game-winning kick in the final seconds, but three safe run plays led to Daniel Riser’s 41-yard field goal attempt with 1:47 left.

“What happened (on) the possession before?” Nystrom asked. “I said (to the offensive coaches) ‘You guys better have good ball security here.’ Cause I’m not looking at another turnover here, and we’re playing the clock.

“I don’t want to be dumb with the ball, because we got down there again and threw a pick. That kind of bites you, you have to learn from your mistakes. When you get a little conservative, there’s usually a reason for it.”

Riser’s kick sailed wide, giving Tech the ball with 1:42 left for the eventual game-winning drive. The missed field goal started the slide at the end of the game that concluded with everything that went wrong on the final drive, Nystrom said.

“It’s just human nature, it takes the wind all out of your sails,” Nystrom said. “Wouldn’t you rather go up three and play defense and get out of the game? That’s what I’d rather do, that’s what they’d rather do, but we didn’t do it.

“You can’t beat yourself, and you can’t turn it into a one-possession game like we did. We’ve known that all week, so we just gotta get better. We’re not quite good enough where we can have those hiccups come up and hurt us. So we have to get good enough where that stuff is overcome.”

To begin the game, both teams traded punts. However, the Huskies’ offense got a jolt with a 32-yard pass from Ark to wide receiver Darius Willis to the NMU 18 on their second possession. MTU capped off the drive with a score on an 8-yard touchdown grab by wide receiver Jordan Janssen about midway through the opening quarter. Northern punted for a second straight possession, but forced another Tech punt to get the ball at its own 24.

NMU quarterback Drake Davis led the Wildcats down the field on a seven-play, 76-yard drive, including a 47-yard third-down strike to wide receiver Wyatt Davis to the Huskies’ 13. Drake kept the ball, getting to the 1, and punched it in on the next play. With Riser’s extra-point kick, the game was tied in the final minute of the period.

The second quarter includes miscues by both teams, leaving it 7-7 at halftime.

The ‘Cats got the ball to begin the second half and were marching down the field. NMU converted three third downs, and it paid off when Drake Davis found Wyatt Davis

in the end zone for a 42-yard strike to give NMU the lead for the first time with 9:47 left in the third.

Drake Davis finished 17 of 25 for 230 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Wyatt Davis caught five of his brother’s completions for 119 yards and that TD.

It’s safe to say that Nystrom feels good about the two of them out there together.

“They give us a chance, they made some plays,” Nystrom said. “Wyatt (Davis)’s a great story, we really brought him to Northern because of Drake (Davis). He had some health issues in high school … he’s a good athlete. He’s strong, he’s a big kid, he’s mean and tough, he don’t say much. But those two brothers, they know what each other’s thinking without even talking.”

The Wildcats’ defense forced another punt later in the third, and all of the momentum was on their side with a 14-7 lead and the ball at midfield. The drive came down to a fourth-and-1 at the Tech 31, but a false start forced Northern to punt it away.

Ark threw passes to move the Huskies’ downfield, finding Willis and tight end Jordan Dent to move the chains past midfield as the third quarter ended. Faced with second-and-5 at the Wildcats’ 30, Ark tried to force a pass downfield and was intercepted by NMU defensive back Eddie McGee at the 3-yard line with 14:11 left.

The poor field position didn’t help the already struggling NMU offense, and the ensuing short punt gave MTU excellent field position at the Northern’s 30. The Huskies got into the red zone and found paydirt with a 10-yard scramble by Ark on fourth down to tie the score with 9:11 remaining.

Both teams punted once again, leading to the forgettable final five minutes for the Wildcats.

It’s difficult to explain what continues to happen in this game every year for the ‘Cats, but a curse might not be it. To Nystrom, retaining veteran players for crucial late-game plays was what was on his mind.

“Retention’s always critical at this university and at this football program,” Nystrom said. “When I get that experience, I have to keep them here. I gotta do everything that I can do to keep them in this helmet, and to get five years out of them.

“A third of the schools are playing with seventh-year guys, and we’ve got this idea around here to play four (years) and leave. Uh-uh, that’s not college football.

“I need to get better experience here so when you get to those situations that you guys are asking me about, you win the play.”

The schedule won’t get any easier moving forward for the Wildcats. Facing off with Grand Valley State, Ferris State and Saginaw Valley State is a gauntlet, and it’ll be a telltale sign how the ‘Cats respond from a heartbreaking rivalry game.

Travis Nelson can be reached by email at [email protected] net.


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