KIRKSVILLE, Mo. – The Michigan Tech football team kicked off the 2018 season Thursday night with a strong 20-10 non-conference victory against a very good Truman State team on the road. The Huskies' offense controlled the tempo and the defense was relentless, forcing a pair of interceptions while keeping the pressure on the Bulldogs offense the entire night.
"I think the key thing for us tonight was our ability to successfully run the football," Michigan Tech Head Coach Steve Olson said. "It setup our play action passing game which resulted in us being able to move the ball consistently. I thought James Henderson gave us a strong performance tonight running the football and we had a number of other players including Jacob Wenzlick, Ben Hartley, and Will Ark step up and make big plays for us as well on offense.
"One of the things we talk about defensively on a consistent basis is the importance of getting the ball back to our offense as quickly as possible. Whether that happens via a takeaway or coming up with a big stop on third down doesn't matter to us. Our goal is to get our offense back on the field and prevent our opponents from having sustained drives. We were able to do that tonight with a couple of key interceptions from Emmanuel Kirkland and Travis Tidwell and some big plays on third and fourth downs."
Michigan Tech (1-0) got the ball first Thursday night and marched 77 yards on the opening drive to take the early lead. Sophomore quarterback Will Ark entered the game facing a third down and six play after starting quarterback Garrett Young was injured. Ark completed a key seven-yard screen pass to senior James Henderson to move the chains before finding senior Jacob Wenzlick on a 30-yard pass to get the Huskies into striking distance.
That play eventually setup a 21-yard field by from freshman Eric Zeboor to make it a 3-0 game with 6:36 remaining in the first quarter. The drive utilized 15 plays and chewed up 8:24 off the clock.
Tech carried the 3-0 lead into the middle of the second quarter, thanks in part to an interception of a Jaden Barr pass by Emmanuel Kirkland in the end zone. Truman State (0-1) eventually drove to the Huskies' four-yard before settling for a 21-yard game tying field goal by Josh Schneiderer with 8:23 to go until the break. The Bulldogs defense then produced what would be their only lead of the night. Jordan Siegel returned an interception 35-yards for a touchdown on Tech's ensuing possession to grad a 10-3 advantage.
It didn't take long for the Huskies to strike back on offense and pull even with Truman State. On a second and 10 play from the Huskies' 33-yard line, Ark lateralled the ball to junior Ben Hartley who delivered a pass downfield to a wide open Jacob Wenzlick who went 67 yards for a touchdown. Zeboor's extra point knotted the game at 10-10 with 5:58 left in the second quarter.
Truman State had the ball for only one play on their next possession thanks to an interception by junior Travis Tidwell. Tidwell returned the ball down to the Bulldogs five yard-line, setting the stage for a 20-yard Zeboor field goal to make it a 13-10 Tech lead.
The point totals remained unchanged until late in the third quarter when the Huskies engineering another long time consuming drive. Ark completed some key passes to Wenzlick and Hartley while converting on a fourth down and three with a nine-yard scamper to keep the drive alive. The Huskies were able to punch the ball in the end zone when Ark connected on a 13-yard pass play with Hartley to make it a 20-10 score with 1:15 left in the third. The scoring drive was 10 plays that covered 70 yards while using up 5:33 off the clock.
The Huskies defense took over from there, forcing a punt and a pair of turnovers on downs by the Bulldogs' offense in the fourth quarter. Truman State was limited to just three points and 257 total yards on offense in the contest.
Ark completed 13 passes for 151 yards and notched his first career touchdown pass with his strike to Hartley in the third quarter. Henderson powered his way to a career high 105 yards on 31 carries while Wenzlick reeled in seven receptions for a career best 172 yards and one touchdown that covered 67 yards. Hartley added four catches for 36 yards, a touchdown reception, and the 67-yard touchdown pass to Wenzlick.
As a team, the Huskies racked up 372 yards of total offense with 146 coming on the ground and 226 through the air. The Huskies dominated in time of possession, maintaining the ball for 37 minutes compared to only 23 minutes by the Bulldogs.
Defensively, senior Graham Hubbell led Tech in total tackles with eight followed by Tidwell and Marshael Ryan with seven tackles each. Tidwell had an interception to go along with his key stops. Junior Marvin Wright had six tackles with 2.5 of them going for lost yardage. Kirkland had three tackles and grabbed the other Tech interception, latching on to the ball in the end zone to prevent a potential Truman State touchdown.
Barr completed 17 passes for 128 yards and was picked off twice in Thursday night's game. He led the team on the ground with 64 yards on 11 carries followed by Jordan Salima with 38 yards on seven touches. Tech's defense kept the Bulldogs powerful ground game in check, limiting them to just 129 yards. Dante Ruffin ended the night as Truman State's top receiver, catching four passes for 38 yards.
Lawrence Woods, Eric Yakle, and Bryan Edwards each had nine tackles to pace the Bulldogs defense. Travis Myerson and Siegel had the two interceptions for Truman State Thursday night.
The Huskies will be in the friendly confines of the newly renovated Sherman Field on Saturday September 8th when they host Hillsdale College in a non-conference game for the 2018 home opener.
"Hillsdale is a very good, experienced, and veteran football team so we are going to have to get our guys ready to play," Olson added. "It will be a good challenge for us and are excited about being back home as we get set to face the Chargers."
Saturday's kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.