Seniors seek perfect mark vs. NMU

HOUGHTON – The seniors on the Michigan Tech football team have never known anything but success when it comes to Northern Michigan.

They have never known the desperate agony that comes with a loss to a rival school a mere two hours away. They have never had to deal with the irritation that sticks in the back of your mind long after the season is done, thinking about the one that got away.

In any rivalry, it is rare for a class to go four full years without at least one defeat at the hands of the rivals. When it comes to the Miner’s Cup, it is unprecedented.

Last season, the Huskies set a record, taking home the U.P. trophy for the third straight year, a first in the 86-game long series with the Wildcats.

Fresh off two demoralizing defeats at the hands of Findlay and Grand Valley State, nothing would serve as well to bounce spirits back up as a clean sweep for the seniors.

“I remember the first year ever I watched Tech play and we lost to them (his redshirt year) and I remember hearing ‘Northern.’ And I hated it,” Tech senior linebacker Taylor Ziolkowski said. “From then on I never wanted to lose to them again. That is what we are working. I never want to lose to them.

“Probably the way we have played the last two weeks, this is the best team to be playing,” Tech coach Tom Kearly said. “Because if you can’t get up for these guys than you are going to have a hard time getting up for anybody. And the practices have been good all week.”

With the Wildcats coming to Sherman Field at 1-3 and winless over the last month, the desperation level will be high on both sides to turn around the season.

The Huskies defense will be especially motivated after giving up 40-plus points to consecutive opponents.

Tech has experienced an odd Jekyll and Hyde personality on defense thus far, dominating the likes of Tiffin and Walsh early in the year before getting overrun by the Oilers and Lakers.

Through four games, the Black and Gold lead the league in yards per game defensively and sit a respectable fifth per game in points allowed, but have generated just five turnovers, tied for the lowest in the league.

So which unit is the true Tech defense? As always, the answer probably lies somewhere between.

“They say two things about statistics. One, statistics are for losers, but also they give you a pretty good indication with where you are. And right now, if you look at total ‘D’, we are No. 1 in the league,” Kearly said.

For the defense to recover Saturday, the focus will be on Wildcat quarterback Dustin Thomas’ every step.

An injury replacement for opening-day starter Cody Scepaniak, Thomas has led Northern in passing and rushing over the past two games.

According to Kearly, NMU likes to called designed runs for the senior, but Thomas is also inclined to take off on his own when the pocket collapses.

This places a high priority on defensive ends Cameron Allen and Nelson Weinke to maintain gap discipline on every play.

“Accountability and execution are the two words right there that describe the whole defense. That is what we are working to get better on,” Ziolkowski said. “And then hustle in pursuit. That is the one thing the other team can’t account for.”

On the other side of the ball, Tech is trying to recover from a failure of execution at Grand Valley, resulting in just three points despite 338 yards of total offense.

The last time Tech scored just three in a game came in a 2004 playoff contest against North Dakota.

There has been a disturbing trend, present in both wins and losses this year, where the Huskies move the ball well before stalling out near the end zone.

The word “execution” has been tossed around a lot – a catch-all term for a variety of mistakes in the red zone.

“It’s just disappointing that we are struggling,” Tech quarterback Tyler Scarlett said. “We pride ourselves on short yardage, and it is disappointing that we have not reached those goals every week.”

“The No. 1 thing you have to do offensively is execute. Defensively you can play on juice, play on emotion and one guy can make a play. But offensively, all 11 of them have to make the play. One guy misses a block or one guy steps the wrong way and the play is a mess,” Kearly added.