NMU football: Wildcats close season looking for first road win at Ferris State

MARQUETTE – For the second-straight year, the Northern Michigan University football team will wrap up its season against Ferris State University, and at least one Wildcats defender still remembers how his team lost a year ago to the Bulldogs.

Pinned on their own 7 yard line with 3:11 to play at the Superior Dome, FSU marched 93 yards on 14 plays to pull within one point with nine seconds left.

Instead of going for the extra point to tie the game and send it into overtime, the Bulldogs went for two with a successful conversion to win 32-31.

“It’s not necessarily a chip on your shoulder, but you want to get them back,” NMU senior defensive back Brandon Parson said. “When somebody comes back at the end of the game, it doesn’t feel too good. That’s a worse loss than a lot of them. That’s hard for them to comeback on the last drive. We want to make a statement early in the game.”

The Wildcats, at 3-6 this season, matched their GLIAC win total from a year ago by beating Northwood in Marquette on Nov. 2, but can surpass that mark with a victory at noon on Saturday in Big Rapids against the Bulldogs.

The Wildcats, who won only once on the road last season at Northwood, are winless away from the Superior Dome this season and have been outscored 183-65 in opposing stadiums.

“It’s been a different year in a lot of different ways,” said NMU second-year head coach Chris Ostrowsky said. “We’re excited to get down there and play as hard as we can and hope to win.”

All three key offensive pieces to last year’s game-winning drive are back – sort of – for the Bulldogs, who sit second in the GLIAC North Division at 7-2 in the conference and 7-3 overall behind Saginaw Valley State.

Senior wide receiver Torico Searcy, who took the game-winning pitch into the end zone for the two-point conversion last year, hasn’t played the previous five weeks after making nine catches for 84 yards and a touchdown in the first five games.

Junior Jake Lampman, whose 14-yard TD catch last year pulled FSU within one, has been healthy and a favorite target of sophomore quarterback Jason Vander Laan with 30 catches for 448 yards and four touchdowns.

Vander Laan, who was 6-of-11 passing for 68 yards on the final drive in 2012 against NMU, is completing 63.3 percent of his passes this year as a sophomore for 1,589 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Where he’s done his most damage is on the ground with 1,396 yards on 226 carries for 18 touchdowns. He’s also lost three fumbles.

Vander Laan is one of 28 finalists for the NCAA Division II College Football Player of the Year Harlan Hill Trophy and only needs 87 yards against the Wildcats to match the Div. II all-time single season record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He’s already broke the GLIAC record, which he set last year as a redshirt freshman.

“We blitzed him some and we contained him a lot,” Parson said about how NMU handled Vander Laan a year ago when the FSU QB rushed for 121 yards on 25 carries. “That was our biggest thing, make sure we contain him. He got us one time up the middle, but around the edges, that’s where you really want to stop him.”

The Wildcats will start true freshman quarterback Shaye Brown for the fifth-straight game with every other QB on the roster out with season ending injuries.

The college rookie has made a case for himself over his past four starts as the starting QB of the future, completing 59.43 percent of his passes for 883 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

He had completed 63 percent of his passes in his first three starts being limited to under 30 throws, but in last week’s 52-17 loss to Saginaw Valley State, Brown threw the ball 46 times with collegiate-highs of 22 completions and 263 yards. Two interceptions came with his two touchdowns.

“I just see him getting comfortable. He’s going to be a great quarterback. He has a lot of great pieces around him,” NMU senior wide receiver Christian Jessie said.

“He’s been handling the offense better, getting in and out of checks and stuff. I think he’ll be fine, we’ll be fine.”