Northern Michigan University will face off in their biggest game of the year on Saturday against hated Yooper rivals Michigan Tech. Here is the break down of what you need to know going into the game.
1) Rare true pocket passer leads the Husky offense
Michigan Tech’s senior quarterback Tyler Scarlett is a beast and has a legitimate claim as the GLIAC’s most underrated player. Scarlett just broke the Huskies’ all-time passing yards record, which matches his records for single-season passing yards, touchdowns in a season, career touchdowns and total offense.
Scarlett does this as a pocket passer, a true rarity for the GLIAC. Currently Ferris State’s Jason Vander Laan and Findlay’s Vernon Reed are getting all the attention as the trendy dual threat quarterbacks and the last quarterback at NMU to have consistent performance was Carter Kopach, who was known for taking off and running with the ball. Scarlett though will sit back with his amazing presence and awareness and zip it out to the available receiver.
Helping Scarlett will be senior running back Charlie Leffingwell, who will be circling around in the wheel routes. Leffingwell is the Ahmad Bradshaw-Darren Sproles like option for Tech, catching passes to get in open space or he can run with it between the tackles.
At wide receiver, Scarlett takes the open pass. Last week, sophomore Brandon Cowie picked up the workload, but junior Andrew Clark still leads the team in receptions.
2) Northern is bucking trends
The Wildcats have quite the deceiving record at 1-2. After a tough loss in the home opener to one of the most difficult options in collegiate football that no one has seen in years, the ‘Cats went to Quincy and won their first non-conference game since 2011. This was also the first win outside of the state of Michigan since 2012. Northern followed that up with another long trip to Hillsdale, shutting down the Chargers’ Bennett Lewis, which no one else had been able to do so far and lost 13-10.
Most people that have followed NMU closely feel differently about those games because Northern just doesn’t win on the road. Period. Since Coach Ostrowsky took over, NMU has defeated only Northwood and Tiffin outside of Marquette. Most of those road losses were also blowouts. Granted, the Wildcats have had the toughest strength of schedule over the last five seasons in Division 2, but winning percentage on the road was significantly lower than at home.
However, a dominant rusher in Wyatt Jurasin and a defensive front seven lead by Levi Perry has created some cornerstones for growth. Most of the team received playing time last season after injuries and graduation hit the team hard. Most of the players are sophomores and juniors, so the team is also growing smarter and more experienced.
The Wildcats will look to buck one big trend on Saturday while keeping one preserved: NMU has lost eight of the last ten games against Tech, but the home team has won eight of the last 12.
3) The Upper Peninsula’s biggest football game will feel like a pro environment
Instead of the usual online broadcast of the game on America ONE, FOX UP will take the call and broadcast it on local television. Mark Evans and Mike Ludlum will be making the calls. This is similar to the home-and-home broadcasts of the Tech-Northern hockey series last year.
Homecoming will bring in its own fanfare, with tailgating, street parties and halftime shows. Fans should expect a full house of alumni and members of the 1975 national championship squad are in town. There will be more time to party before the game with the 7 p.m. start time as well.
The short drive from Houghton to Marquette will bring lots of Tech fans to the Superior Dome. The next closest opponent for the Huskies is Northwood, which is still a seven-hour drive. Add in the new video board above the west end zone and the only domed stadium in Division 2 and this will be an unheard of experience for the region.
4) The kicking game may be the most important
In Michigan Tech’s opening win at Wayne State, Husky kicker Garrett Mead made four field goals, including a 25-yard game winner as time expired. Since then Mead has missed both field goal attempts and hit seven of nine PAT attempts. The senior is the all-time record holder for points and field goals at Tech.
Northern has freshman Ryan LaBerge leading the way. LaBerge has hit four of his six attempts and all six PAT’s. LaBerge is a Yooper, playing high school ball just south of Houghton in L’Anse.
Inside the dome, there is no wind or outside elements. It is a great venue to enjoy the sheer athleticism and skill of kicking specialists and a big game like this will show the mental strength needed to be clutch. The last big kick in the rivalry happened in 2011 when Rockne Belmonte missed a game-tying 52-yarder as time expired.
5) Game is loaded with other implications
As stated in our power rankings earlier this week, some Tech fans are already scared of earned access — where if a conference champion from an autoqualifying conference can steal an NCAA tournament berth from a higher ranked team. Right now, Ferris and Ohio Dominican look like shoe-ins for two of the six spots, but there is a real possibility for a third team to make it.
There are three other conferences in the super regional: Lone Star Conference, Great Lakes Valley Conference and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Indianapolis will dominate the GLVC and Colorado State-Pueblo has already defeated FCS’s #15 Sam Houston State this season. The LSC is more up for grabs and a lot of teams will eliminate each other trying to get the top spot. But if Tech finishes in the sixth and final spot for the regional in front of an LSC team, that other team could take that spot.
This is important because this has happened before when the RMAC’s Colorado School of Mines took the final spot over Tech a few years ago. Michigan Tech did not play a non-conference game this year and three of Tech’s opponents have yet to win a game. Any loss will be tough to make up with that weak strength of schedule.
For Northern, homecoming has been a scheduling disaster for years. This is the first season that Northern has not faced off against the NCAA D2 national runners up or the GLIAC conference champions since 2010. That also was the last time NMU won their homecoming game, a 23-19 victory against Ashland. With a team looking to stay rolling, an emotional loss will be tough to overcome.
Also this is for the Miner’s Cup, the rivalry trophy shared between Northern and Tech. The Huskies have won nine of the twelve games since the trophy was created.
The all-time series between the two schools are tied 41-41-5. Tech has not led the all-time series since 1985.