HOUGHTON, Mich. – The Michigan Tech football team kept the Miner's Cup in Houghton for the eighth straight year thanks to a 28-21 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference victory over rival Northern Michigan Saturday night at Sherman Field. For the second straight week, the Huskies overcame a double digit deficit to generate their second win in a row and third on the season.
"I thought our players played extremely hard," Michigan Tech Head Coach Steve Olson said. "I don't think we were always great all the time, but we played hard and I'm proud of their effort. I thought it was a great win.
"There are many aspects of this football team that played well at different times tonight. I thought Jake Brown threw the ball well and put it into spots where our receivers could make plays and they did. On defense, we have a lot of guys who can make plays for us and they came up big for us tonight as well."
Things started slow for Michigan Tech (3-2, 2-1 GLIAC) with Northern Michigan (1-3, 1-2 GLIAC) striking for the first 14 points of the game. The Huskies moved the chains once on their opening possession, but were forced to punt from their 49-yard line. Sophomore punter Michael James pinned the Wildcats deep in their own end at the one-yard line with a 50-yard blast.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats were able to dig out of their own end zone and eventually score the first touchdown of the night. Running Back Jake Mayon reeled off a 10-yard run on a third down and three play from the NMU 18-yard line and on the next play, quarterback Ryan Johnson found Tanner Kruzel out of the back field for a 72-yard touchdown pass with 9:44 to play in the first quarter.
Northern Michigan used an interception by safety Pat Ryan to setup the second set of seven points for the Wildcats. Northern Michigan started the drive at the Tech 30-yard line and two plays later they were into the end zone on a 20-yard run by Mayon to make it a 14-0 game with 7:29 still remaining in the opening period.
Towards the end of the first quarter, some pieces started to fall into place for Tech after a missed field goal from 47-yards out by Northern Michigan. The Huskies took over on their 30-yard and began a scoring drive that would cover 70-yards in 10 plays.
Junior quarterback Jake Brown had a pair of key completions on the drive, finding sophomore wide receiver Jacob Wenzlick for 14-yards on one play and then senior wide receiver Kevin Kirkland for 12-yards on a third down and seven play. The Huskies eventually worked the ball down to the Wildcats 13-yard line where senior running back James Henderson picked up 10-yards followed by a three-yard touchdown run. The extra point attempt failed and the score stood at 14-6 with 13:57 left in the first half.
Northern Michigan threatened to go back up by two scores again when they maneuvered the ball all the way down to the Tech eight-yard line. On fourth and five, the Wildcats decided to try a 25-field goal and for the second consecutive week the Huskies blocked a kick. This time it was senior strong safety Spencer Moran who knifed in to swat the football out of the air and keep the Wildcats from adding points on the scoreboard.
With 2:09 to go before the break and still trailing 14-6, the Huskies got the ball back facing the length of the field at their own 10. That didn't faze the offense though as just a few moments later Tech was back in the end zone. Brown connected with Kirkland for 16-yards to get the Huskies some breathing room.
The on a first and 10 play from the 25-yard line, Brown dropped back to throw and delivered a precision pass deep down the right side to Wenzlick who found himself one on one with the defender. Wenzlick ran under the ball, made the catch, and sprinted to the house for the touchdown which was his first of the year. With the extra point, the Huskies pulled to within one at 14-13 as both teams headed into the locker room.
Only one touchdown would be scored in the third quarter and it belonged to the Huskies. The Tech defense came up with a big stop on fourth and one when sophomore linebacker Marvin Wright and senior defensive lineman Cody Goldsworthy stopped Mayon for a one-yard loss at the Tech 49.
Brown moved the Huskies' offense down the field with completions of 18 yards to Kirkland and 13 yards to senior running back John Williams. Williams powered the ball down to the Wildcat five-yard line and then on his next carry, broke the plain of the goal line for his 10th rushing touchdown of the season. The Huskies found themselves up 20-14 with 3:22 on the third quarter clock.
Northern Michigan wouldn't go quietly though and with 11:34 to play in the fourth quarter regained the lead at 21-20. Mayon played the role of passer this time and connected with Kruzel on a halfback pass of 30-yards.
Henderson then stepped up to make a big play on special teams when he returned the ensuing kickoff 32-yards to put the Tech offense in good field position at their 37-yard line. That would set the table for what would eventually be the game winning touchdown. Williams cruised forward for 11-yards on the first play of the drive and then another big throw from Brown to Kirkland of 33-yards placed the ball at the NMU seven-yard line.
One play later, Brown tossed a fade into the right corner of the end zone where sophomore wide receiver Ben Hartley was waiting to haul it in for the six-yard touchdown, his first of the season. Leading 26-21, the Huskies needed to go for the two-point conversation which was a success. Brown went right back to Hartley who made a diving catch just inside the pylon for the two-points, extending the lead out to 28-21 with 8:27 to go.
From there the defense took over, forcing a Northern Michigan punt and a turnover on downs as time expired. Senior defensive lineman Cayman Berg-Morales had two big fourth quarter sacks, including one for a seven-yard loss on the Wildcats final possession.
Brown guided the offense for the Huskies, completing 11 of 21 passes for a pair of touchdowns and a season high 231 yards. Wenzlick picked up right where he left off last week, leading the team in receiving yards again Saturday with a career best 114 yards with the addition of a touchdown. Last week, he had 97 yards against Saginaw Valley State in Tech's come from behind win.
Kirkland had a big game catching the football as well, hauling in four receptions for 79 yards while Hartley caught three passes for 25-yards, a touchdown, and two-point conversation. Williams carried the ball 25 times for 90-yards and got into the end zone for the fifth straight week. Henderson scored his second touchdown on the ground and finished the night with 127 all-purpose yards. The Huskies had 363 yards of total offense with 231 coming through the air and 132 via the ground attack.
Defensively, Wright generated 12 total tackles with a half tackle for a loss included in the totals. Goldsworthy had eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and three quarterback hurries. Berg-Morales finished with six tackles and a two sacks while Moran added four tackles and the blocked field goal.
Johnson completed 14 of 24 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown to power the Northern Michigan offense. Mayon covered 157 yards on the ground with 31 carries and score while tossing a touchdown pass of 30-yards. Kruzel had four catches for 116-yards and two touchdowns for the Wildcats. Northern Michigan had 366-yards of total offense with 215 through the air and 151 on the ground.
Darryl Williams produced a team high 11 tackles followed by Troy Mayon and John McMullen with nine tackles apiece. Ryan and Demarious Wright each had interceptions in Saturday's contest.
The Huskies will be back in action Saturday when they travel to Northwood University for another GLIAC showdown. The kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.