NMU football: Wildcats, Scepaniak turn ball over three times in 30-23 loss to Ohio Dominican on homecoming

MARQUETTE – A week ago, the Northern Michigan University football team watched its offense feed off the four turnovers created by its defense to score a season-opening win over Findlay at the Superior Dome.

Back at the Dome on Saturday for homecoming, it was NMU senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak and the offense handing the ball to the opposition, resulting in a 30-23 loss to Ohio Dominican of the GLIAC South Division.

“At this juncture, I’m really disappointed in the way we went about our business,” NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said. “We talk about ball security every single day and creating turnovers. We didn’t do a very good job in either.”

Scepaniak threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, resulting in 13 Panthers (3-0 overall, 2-0 in GLIAC) points via two short field goals and a touchdown drive.

The first interception was tipped by Scepaniak’s intended receiver into the hands of ODU junior safety Cody Culbertson and returned 12 yards to the NMU 25 yard line. Four plays later, ODU junior QB Mark Miller hit junior wide receiver Abe Johnson on a 13-yard TD pass to put NMU down 14-0 in the first quarter.

“It’s a terrible feeling to have that many turnovers and still be in it,” Scepaniak said. “You have to give credit to the defense. There were a lot of things on both sides of the ball we left out there, but when you turn over the ball, you can’t win games.”

Scepaniak ran in an 8-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to cut the ODU lead to 14-7 and got the ball right back after just one Panthers play thanks to an interception by NMU senior corner Brandon Parson.

Northern (1-1 overall, 1-1 in GLIAC) drove 64 yards on 10 plays to the Ohio Dominican 10 yard line, but Scepaniak coughed up the football at the ODU 4.

Panthers senior linebacker Dominic Clegg caused the Scepaniak fumble with a forceful hit and ODU sophomore safety Brad McCurdy recovered the loose ball. ODU then marched 81 yards on 16 plays, taking 7:28 off the clock. The Panthers settled for a 33-yard field goal to take a 17-7 lead.

“A good hit, a good play on (Clegg’s) part,” Scepaniak said. “I’ve got to cover up the ball better.”

Scepaniak was picked off in NMU territory again late in the third quarter, this time by Panthers sophomore cornerback Billy Eakins while Scepaniak was trying to hit a receiver in double coverage deep down the field on third and 1.

Eakins returned the interception 23 yards to the Northern 22 to set up an eventual 25-yard field goal that put ODU up by two touchdowns, 30-16.

“We didn’t take care of the ball good enough today,” Ostrowsky said. “We threw a pick on a play where the kids kind of changed deals. They thought they saw something and was something I’m sure won’t happen again.”

Parson’s pick was the Wildcats one takeaway all game for the NMU defense, which gave up 425 yards of total offense against ODU after surrendering 501 yards of total offense against the Panthers in the very first meeting between the two schools last year and 592 total yards against Findlay in Week 1.

Of the 425 yards gave up Saturday, 301 were rushing yards.

Senior Mark Nichols led the ODU running backs with 157 yards on 11 carries and sophomore Brandon Schoen rushed for 141 yards in 11 carries, though 85 yards came on one of his two touchdown runs.

“When you lose football games, nothing feels good,” Ostrowsky said. “We’ll find a way to play better run defense and that will be an emphasis heading into (practice) Tuesday.”