Sams did just that. The Wildcats used the pass to set up the running game enroute to a winning 6-5 overall season and a fifth-place 6-4 record in the GLIAC.
The Wildcat aerial attack established several new team and individual records.
NMU opened the season with a 45-17 non-conference loss at St. Cloud State University. They then put together a four-game unbeaten streak, lost to the top team in Division II, Grand Valley State, then won two more games for a 6-2 record. However, several key injuries hit the Wildcats down the stretch and they closed out the season with three straight losses.
NMU compiled a 4-1 home record and a 2-4 road record.
Northern Michigan had 4,188 yards in total offense, 2,839 passing and 1,349 rushing. They averaged 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and 10.6 yards per passing attempt. They scored 287 points, 26.1 per game.
Junior Kyle Swenor, in his first year as starting quarterback, had a record-setting season.
He completed 269 of 462 passes for 2,839 yards with 14 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He also lead the team in total offense, averaging 267.5 yards per game.
He established the new single-season records for total offense (2,943 yards), most yards passing (2,839), most passing attempts (462) and most completions (269). He also tied the school record for most interceptions (20).
Senior flanker Brandon Munson also had a record-setting year. He led the Wildcats with 950 receiving yards on 76 receptions, breaking the old mark of 62 catches. He had six touchdowns. He also led the team in all-purpose yardage, averaging 86.4 yards per game. Junior college transfer Pat Rouzard also had a solid first-year with 64 receptions for 622 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Chris Messano pulled in 31 passes for 304 yards while 12 other players had at least one reception.
After a year out of the program, junior Terrell Goldsmith returned to the team and ended up as the leading rusher and scorer.
Goldsmith rushed for 731 yards on 170 carries. He led the team in scoring with 84 points on 14 touchdowns, the most by a Wildcat since 1988.
He went over the 100 yard mark in four games and has rushed for over 100 yards 11 times in his career. In three season, Goldsmith has rushed for 2,355 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Freshman Abram McCoy was the second-leading rusher with 308 yards and two touchdowns on 52 carries and redshirt freshman Corey Woods picked up 193 yards and two TD's on 48 carries.
On defense, NMU gave up 4,335 yards in total offense, 2607 passing and 1,728 rushing. They allowed 325 points (29.5).
Junior linebacker Brandon Genwright led the team with 102 total tackles. Three seniors followed Genwright. Mike Oswald had 89 tackles, Casey Young 82 and Ben Laarman 80.
Junior defensive end Josh Sherko led the team with 10 tackles for losses including a team-high eight quarterback sacks for minus 53 yards.
Senior defensive back Nathan Twork led the team with four pass interceptions while redshirt freshman cornerback Matt Shem had a team-high nine pass breakups.
Overall, the Wildcats picked off 14 passes and returned them for 286 yards and one touchdown.
The defense posed 67 tackles for losses including 67 quarterback sacks for minus 256 yards.
The Wildcats only averaged 4.5 yards on punt returns with a total of 23 returns for 104 yards. Sophomore Manuel Diaz led the way with 14 returns for 48 yards.
Freshman Vincent Mayfield and Diaz were the kickoff return leaders. Mayfield had 15 returns for 317 yards (21.1) and Diaz had 13 returns for 189 yards (14.5).
For the third straight year Ryan Wettstein led the team in punting. He punted 60 times for a 41.8 average, best in the conference. He also had a long punt of 57 yards, had 16 punts inside the 20, had four touchbacks and six punts were fair caught.
His three-year average as the team's punter is 39.9 yards. His 42.8 average in 2001 was the second-best in school history.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Marotz took over the kicking duties for the 'Cats in 2002 and turned in a solid season. He converted 31 of 33 extra points and made 12 of 16 field goals with a long kick of 48 yards.
Northern Michigan scored 287 points during the 11 game schedule, scoring 54 points in the first quarter, 72 in the second, 64 in the third and 91 in the fourth quarter.
They allowed 325 points, including 70 in the first quarter, 94 in the second, 77 in the third and 81 in the fourth.
The 'Cats converted 73 of 179 third downs for the 41% and made 7 of 19 fourth downs for 37%.
They lost 13 of 24 fumbles and were penalized 69 times for 686 yards.
Since the Superior Dome opened in 1991, NMU had compiled a 42-20 home record, a winning percentage of .677.
Northern Michigan played before 41,303 fans in 2002, 20,350 in five home games, an average of 4,070 and 20,953 in six road games, an average of 3,492.
The largest home crowd was 5,749 for the home opener vs. Mercyhurst. That was the fifth best crowd at the Superior Dome. The largest away crowd was 9,560 at Grand Valley State.
The 2002 roster included 16 seniors who suited up for the final time.
In 2003, the Wildcats will return 15 seniors, nine juniors, 24 sophomores and 27 redshirt freshman.