MARQUETTE, Mich. – The Northern Michigan University football team got the season rolling exactly the way it wanted with a 31-24 win over the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks. Two clutch plays late in the game sealed the victory for the Wildcats in their season opener from the Superior Dome on Thursday (Sept.1) evening.
“This win couldn’t feel any better, because it wasn’t easy,” head football coach Bernie Anderson said. “We beat a very good football team. Our defense came up big and made the play when we had to.”
Jacob Lehman’s interception in the endzone with less than a minute to go put an end to a 9-play 61-yard drive by the Mavericks who were trying to tie the game with a touchdown. The ball was thrown by quarterback Jon Daniels into heavy traffic. Senior linebacker Eddie Knoblock got his hands on it first and tipped it up as teammates surrounded. Lehman made the final grab and laid in the endzone for the touchback.
NMU quarterback Carter Kopach took a couple kneel-downs and the game was over.
“We had enough guys on the ball,” Anderson said about the interception. “We played volleyball with it a little bit but finally it came up in green jerseys.”
The drive that gave the ‘Cats the lead was capped off by a 19-yard touchdown reception from Kopach to redshirt freshman wide receiver Julian Gaines. NMU designed a quarterback keeper on fourth and one, after a timeout, but called an audible for the 6-5 receiver.
“Their defense didn’t give us a chance to run on the play we called and Carter made a perfect throw into one-on-one coverage,” Anderson said.
NMU went into halftime with a 21-17 lead. Senior John Privitelli scored the first touchdown of the season on a 67-yard punt return early in the first quarter. Minnesota State answered with a field goal before NMU wide receiver Christian Jessie scored on a 22-yard reception.
MSU scored its first touchdown of the season after a 13-play 82-yard drive that ended in a 7-yard touchdown from Daniels to Dennis Carter.
Christian Marble-King had a 4-yard touchdown run after a 13-play 90-yard drive by NMU.
The Mavericks scored with two seconds to go in the half to close the Wildcat lead to four. Daniels completed a 7-yard touchdown to LaMark Brown. Brown also had a 35-yard run in the drive.
“They have a very good defense,” Anderson added. “They took the receivers out of the game and left the box open for Kopach to scramble. We made a lot of called draws for Kopach to read the play so that we could open up the perimeter for the passing game.”
Kopach finished the game 13-of-19 for 147 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 88 yards on the ground. Privitelli finished with 27 yards rushing and Prince Young had 24. Christian Jessie finished with four receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown. Marble-King had 29 yards receiving and Gaines had 38 with a touchdown. Rockne Belmonte made a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter and made four extra points.
Senior linebacker Eddie Knoblock led the team with nine total tackles (two solo and seven assisted). Josh Droese had seven, Junior Michel six and Marcus Tribble, Zach Pierson and Anthony Echols all had five total tackles. Zach Anderson had two sacks.
The Mavericks were led on the offensive end by Daniels who was 16-of-25 for 195 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. LaMark Brown led the ground attack with 54 yards and also had 66 yards receiving on two touchdowns. Dennis Carter had 62 receiving yards and a touchdown. Three Mavericks had seven tackles each.
NMU travels to Findlay next Saturday (Sept. 10) for a noon kickoff.
Game Notes: Former Wildcat and former Detroit Lions head coach Steve Mariucci was in attendance and was an honorary captain for the coin toss... It was the second year in a row the two teams met in the season opener. MSU won 7-6 a year ago from Mankato, Minnesota... Attendance was 5,352.
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