After back-to-back 2-8 season in 2004 and 2005 the Northern Michigan University football team had a bit of a break out last season in Bernie Anderson’s first season at the controls. The Wildcats ended the 2006 campaign with a 3-7 record as two of the wins came in the first two weeks of the season against Indianapolis (27-20 OT) and Hillsdale (31-24). NMU’s last winning season came in 2002 when the ‘Cats were 6-5. One thing about the ‘Cats is that they were in almost all of the games. The tide has turned a bit for the team and that should only continue.
“We are starting to build some depth in our program and commitment. I liked last year’s attitude and work ethic that is in good shape,” said Anderson. “We are a little deeper than we were a year ago, a little bigger and stronger.” According to Anderson, the blocks are in place to build the program.
NMU tied with Mercyhurst for 10th in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) for the 2006 season. The ‘Cats were ninth in the conference in scoring offense (23.4 points a game), but were the bottom team (13th) for scoring defense (33.3 points a game). NMU did lead the conference in passing offense by averaging 246.4 yards a game through the air. The ‘Cats were sixth in the GLIAC in total offense in 2006 (341.2 yards average per game) while being 13th in total defense (387.0 yards average per game).
Buddy Rivera returns for his senior campaign to direct the ‘Cats attack from his quarterback spot. Rivera passed for 2,399 yards on 165-279-5 with 20 touchdowns. He accounted for 2,567 yards of total offense. Rivera, a Second Team All-GLIAC selection in 2006, led the conference in passing average/game with an average of 239.9 yards a game and in total offense (256.7 yds/g). His pass efficiency of 151.4 was second last season in the GLIAC behind Grand Valley State’s Cullen Finnerty’s 169.3. At one point during the season, Rivera could break the NMU career records for total offense, yards passing and touchdown passes. “He is critical to our offense,” said Anderson. “He makes big plays.”
Join Rivera in the backfield are returners Mark Bossuah and Brad Anderson. Bossuah led the 2006 ‘Cats on the ground with 428 yards on 111 carries. Anderson was next with 259 yards on 82 carries. Bossuah with six touchdowns, Anderson with three and Rivera’s two accounted for all 11 rushing touchdowns. Bossuah was the lone ‘Cat named a GLIAC Offensive Player of the Week when he was given the honor after the Gannon game. He rushed for a career-high118 yards on 21 carries and scored three touchdowns.
The receiving corps should be in good shape as the top three receivers from last year are all back. All three receivers had 20 or more catches. Fred Wells leads the way as he hauled in a team-high 44 receptions for 870 yards with nine touchdowns. Dan Elmore had 36 catches for 440 yards and five scores. Greg Raspberry the third member had 20 receptions for 447 yards and three scores. The three receivers had a combined 17 of the 21 touchdown scored through the air in 2006. Zach Nichols, Justin Merckx and Tyler Schrauben could contribute to the receivers as the season moves along.
The offensive line should be in good shape. All members of the line who started the final game of 2006 against Grand Valley State are all back. The tackles were Kris Krempien and Jack Rustman. Next in at the guards spots were Lucas Domitrovich and Dan Ryan. Cody Hanson was the center while Austin Hughes lined up at tight end. Hughes ended the season in 2006 with 10 catches for 132 yards. “They are a tight knit group,” said Anderson. “This is going to be the group to show the most improvement.”
Special teams could move more to the front in 2007. Jon Laue who handled the kicking duties last year is back. He converted on 28-31 PATs and was 4-5 in field goals with his longest being 33 yards against Hillsdale. The punter from 2006, Thomas Labuz, with his 38 punts last year for 1,358 yards (35.7 average per kick) is back. He booted six of his kicks inside the 20-yard line. The Wildcats did not score a touchdown in 2006 on either a punt or kickoff return. Depth should be improved with a couple more people in the mix.
Defensively it is a bit of a different story. Seven starters are back from last year. The line and linebackers are missing one each. “I like some of the leadership,” said Anderson. “We have to get pressure on the quarterback. We are going to be a better defense than we were a year ago.”
Scott Avery and Tyler Larson anchor from the ends positions while Mike Mahloch is at the tackle spot. The only question mark is the nose guard spot. Mahloch could move over from his tackle spot while James Streeter and Mike Hanschmann could also be in the mix. Avery ended the 2006 campaign with six total tackles (three solo and three assisted) one-and-a-half tackles-for-loss (-9 yards) and one-and-a-half sacks (-9 yards). Larson tallied 36 total tackles (17 solo and 19 assisted), six-and-a-half tackles for loss (-20 yards) and a sack (-7 yards). Mahloch registered 41 total tackles (20 solo and 21 assisted), a team-high nine tackles-for-loss (20 yards) and two sacks (-7 yards) for a team-high. Streeter saw limited time last year as he had seven total tackles (two solo and five assisted).
Nathan Yelk will be back in the linebacking fold after going down the second game of the season against Hillsdale. Also back are Joe Dost, Nicholas Bloch and Zach Gauthier. Yelk had 15 total tackles (four solo and 11 assisted) in his brief time last year. He also had two interceptions. Dost and Bloch were the top two tacklers on the roster last year. Dost was second on the team with 68 total tackles (28 solo and 40 assisted), four-and-a-half tackles-for-loss (-25 yards) and one sack (-9 yards). Bloch led the ‘cats with 79 total tackles (33 solo and 46 assisted), two-and-a-half tackles-for-loss and a sack. Gauthier ended the 2006 campaign with 48 total tackles (15 solo and 33 assisted), three-and-a-half tackles-for-loss (-18 yards) and a sack for -10 yards.
Travis Holmes is the lone starter in the defensive backfield. Holmes was third on the team in 2006 with 52 total tackles (32 solo and 20 assisted). Filling out the other spots could be Ricky Neaves, Jonathan Hoggard or Courtney Sweeney. Neaves had over 20 total tackles in 2006 as he ended the season with 26 (15 solo and 11 assisted). Hoggard had 23 total tackles (16 solo and seven assisted) and a team-leading four interceptions.
Grand Valley State looks as the team to beat once again. The defending NCAA II National Champions are poised to make another run. Northwood, Ferris State and Saginaw Valley State could challenge also. The ‘Cats could move up a couple of spots to the middle of the standings with an improved team. “We are capable of having more than three wins if we can stay healthy,” said Anderson. “I expect to be more competitive with everybody we play.”
Anderson continues with his re-building job at NMU. If the defense can improve the offense has proven it can move the ball and score. Then that will help the ‘Cats move up in the standings.
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