Ferris game begins crucial stretch for Huskies
HOUGHTON – The Michigan Tech football team has arrived at a tipping point.
With the next three games – Ferris State (4-2) Saturday, Saginaw Valley (6-0) and at Hillsdale (4-1) – against teams that sit in the top half of the GLIAC North Division standings, the Huskies have an opportunity to make this season into something special or stumble into a decent but ultimately forgettable year.
Working in the Huskies’ favor, three of the final four games will be at home, where Tech has excelled to a 9-3 mark (2-0 this season) under junior quarterback Tyler Scarlett.
“This is Husky time,” junior defensive end Nelson Wienke said. “The guys have been saying it all week, this is our time. We are at home, we have U.P. weather, we still control our own destiny for the most part. It’s Husky time.”
The combined record of the four teams Tech defeated so far this season sits at 5-17, leaving ample margin of error for each game.
The Huskies needed that margin too, leaving a bevy of points on the field in each contest.
Head coach Tom Kearly can rattle off the missed opportunities on the spot. Against Walsh, kicker Garrett Mead set a school record with five field goals made – a dubious feat considering all five kicks came in the red zone. There were multiple short yardage failures in the Northern contest, specifically two stalled drives inside the Wildcat 10-yard line with one series failing to secure points after halting at the one-yard mark.
And last week at Northwood, the Huskies nearly let a sure victory slip from their hands with three drives into the red zone that ended with zero total points.
That margin of error that Huskies have gotten away with disappears over the final month of the season.
“We haven’t played a clean, complete ball game on offense yet,” Kearly said. “We have looked good at times and can move the football, and then we squander some points. I don’t think we can do that this week or the next two. We are not going to be able to play C-plus level or B-minus level and get away with it. We need to bring our A-game these next two weeks at home.
“You cannot kick five field goals.”
The weather for Saturday is predicted for sub-40 temperatures with a good chance of rain/sleet/snow and winds over 20 miles per hour.
In other words, a typical Houghton day in late October.
“I knew what I was getting into when I signed the papers a couple years ago,” running back Charlie Leffingwell said with a laugh. “I almost – I don’t – but I almost feel bad for guys who are coming up here freezing on game day where to us it is just another day.”
While the conditions would appear to play right into the Huskies’ plans, Ferris State probably would not mind poor weather affecting Scarlett’s ability to throw either.
No team in the GLIAC is more run-dependent than the Bulldogs, leading the conference at 314.4 rushing yards per game at 6.2 yards per clip.
Ferris leans heavily on sophomore quarterback Jason Vander Laan to move the ball, letting the Chicago native run 154 times (944 yards) and pass 137 times (1,111 yards).
With Leffingwell fresh off a 221-yard performance at Northwood, the weather could dictate a classic slugfest Saturday to see who wants it more.
“We know up here that somewhere along the line we are going to have to play in inclement weather. We use that as a rallying point.” Kearly said. “It helps answer the philosophy of our program of what type of team are we. We have to be able to run the ball and we have to be able to stop the run, because you can’t be throwing it too much with 20 mph winds. That’s a good way to throw some picks and lose.”
If called upon for another 30-plus carries, Leffingwell will need to demonstrate he has learned from his recent ball-security errors in a game of such tight margins.
The only thing marring the junior’s performance at Northwood was a critical fourth-quarter fumble the Timberwolves returned for a touchdown to briefly take the lead.
Leffingwell has lost four fumbles this season in six games.
“I really have to focus on every down where the ball is,” Leffingwell said. “High and tight, making sure the ball is secure. As a running back getting the ball 38 times a game or every rep in practice it is easy to lose track and lose focus. So that is my main goal now to focus every rep where I’m holding the ball.”