NMU football: Thomas the starter after injury strikes down another QB

MARQUETTE – In Chris Ostrowsky’s four seasons at Northern Michigan University – two as offensive coordinator from 2010-11 and two as head coach from 2012-present – only once has his Week 1 starter made it through an entire season.

That’s exactly why Ostrowsky brought in an experienced backup quarterback like Dustin Thomas out of Villanova.

The former NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision quarterback who transferred to NMU in the spring is slated to start for the Wildcats (1-2 overall, 1-2 in GLIAC) at 1 p.m. on Saturday against Hillsdale (1-3 overall, 1-1 in GLIAC) at the Superior Dome.

Thomas replaced senior starter Cody Scepaniak under center in the second quarter of last week’s 52-24 loss to Ashland after Scepaniak left the game with a leg injury.

Since being pulled from the game, Scepaniak has been on the sidelines in crutches. According to Ostrowsky, Scepaniak will be out for “some time” so Thomas is the starter for the foreseeable future.

Playing just over two quarters, Thomas finished 8 of 11 passing for 102 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 57 yards on 11 carries.

“I thought he did a nice job for us,” Ostrowsky said. “Dustin did a heck of a job coming in and playing there at Ashland.

“It’s always hard to be the backup quarterback. It’s a unique situation because the starters got to get the reps to get the timing down. It’s a heck of an accomplishment whenever you see a backup coming in and do a good job.”

Scepaniak entered Week 3 as the GLIAC’s leading passer, but since slipped to eighth after playing only two quarters against Ashland. He’s 55 of 87 passing for 735 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Scepaniak still leads NMU in rushing with 206 yards on 46 carries. He left the game against Ashland having hit on 10 of 14 passing attempts for 117 yards.

“Cody has really been a large part of what we’ve represented here in the last year and a half,” Ostrowsky said. “It’s still unknown where we are going to go in that direction.”

Redshirt freshman Ryan Morley started the 2012 season for Northern – the first with Ostrowsky as head coach – but was lost for the season with a concussion after taking a hit in the third quarter of a Week 6 loss at home to Michigan Tech.

Scepaniak, who transferred to NMU in 2011 as insurance for senior Carter Kopach, finished the season with 1,055 passing yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions in six games and five starts.

Ostrowsky required an insurance policy for Kopach – who started all 11 games in 2011 – because the QB suffered a season-ending injury at Grand Valley State in Week 6 of Ostrowsky’s first season at NMU in 2010. His replacement, freshman Jacob Hicks, threw for only 420 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions in six games and didn’t return to NMU the following season.

In 2010, Ostrowsky said he had to drastically change the Wildcats game plan because the difference between Kopach and Hicks was “night and day.”

Even last year when Morley went down, Ostrowsky said he had to tweak the offense because Scepaniak played a different style.

That’s not the case this year because Scepaniak and Thomas have different skill sets. The big difference between the two is experience in Ostrowsky’s offense.

Scepaniak is in his third season with Ostrowsky, while Thomas’ time is still being measured in months.

“It’s a tough offense to grasp,” Ostrowsky said. “In the short amount of time, (Thomas has) grasped it quicker than other guys we’ve had.”

Thomas is familiar with Ostrowsky’s offense from his time at Villanova.

He redshirted after appearing in only one game for the Wildcats in 2010, then started four of six games at QB in 2011. He missed four games that season with a separated shoulder.

“It’s kind of built around a spread quarterback, so it’s not much different than what I ran at Villanova,” Thomas said about the Wildcats’ no-huddle spread. “It wasn’t that hard of a system for me to pick up.

“I’m happy I have the people around me because it makes it a lot easier.”