Finishing the job

Davenport’s Evan Boyer, bottom center hidden, is tackled by NMU’s Troy Mayon, left, and Pat Ryan Saturday afternoon September 23, 2017 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Corey)

By RYAN STIEG Journal Sports Writer MARQUETTE — Over the past few seasons, the Northern Michigan University football team had built a reputation for blowing leads or coming up short with the game on the line. But on Saturday, that status may have come to an end at the school’s Superior Dome in Marquette. Things got interesting with time winding down, but the Wildcats finished the job, snapping an eight-game losing streak that went back to last season with a 24-14 takedown of GLIAC newcomer Davenport. “We had two tough weeks to start off against great teams, so that made us work harder,” said NMU running back Jake Mayon, who was a major part of the offense after he rushed for 247 yards and caught a pass for 11 more. “It showed us where we needed to be at having to compete like that. “We did have those losses before at the end of the game where we let it go, so to be able to finish is huge for us and we want to continue that. “We just need to continue to finish and play hard all four quarters.” While Mayon was feeling good, especially after touchdown runs of 49 and 58 yards, Wildcats head coach Kyle Nystrom had mixed feelings about his team’s performance. “It feels good to get a win,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but we’ll take it and we’re appreciative of it. “It wasn’t pretty in the second half. We were sputtering in execution on offense in the second quarter. The defense had trouble with their inside run game, so we’ll look at the film and see what’s wrong there. “I didn’t like how they were able to run the ball with the quarterback and there was some sloppy tackling in there too, so we have to get better. “Jake bailed us out and we started a true freshman quarterback (Ryan Johnson) that I thought played really well for his first game. I give him credit for coming into that situation and coming out on top.” It didn’t take long for the NMU offense to get going. After getting stopped for a 2-yard loss, Mayon broke free down the near sideline for a 49-yard TD jaunt. This and two other long runs allowed Mayon to average 9 1/2 yards per carry on Saturday. With the first of three Dalton Ray extra-point kicks, Northern led 7-0. NMU (1-2, 1-1 GLIAC) struck again on its next possession. Johnson connected with Walter Jackson for a first down on the far sideline and once into Davenport territory, he floated the ball right into wide receiver Ryan Knight’s hands for a 33-yard TD and a 14-0 lead with less than half the first quarter gone. Johnson completed 12 of 19 passes for 131 yards and no interceptions. “(Johnson) had a good week in practice and he was just better this week than the rest of them,” Nystrom said about his QBs. “He made the right reads and went to the right people with the ball. “It was time for him to do it and we debated whether to do it in Ferris, but the production wasn’t a big enough difference to say, ‘Let’s throw him in the fire.’ “This week it was and I give the kid credit. He just got out of high school a few weeks back, but he’s got good poise, though.” On the ensuing kickoff, Davenport (0-3) got good field position on a nice return. A jet sweep from Keion Powers got a first down and a nice scramble by William James moved the ball to midfield, but then the NMU defense stiffened and forced a punt. With Northern backed up at its own 5 on the ensuing possession, Mayon got his team out of the shadow of its own goal posts. By the time he was shoved out of bounds, he had busted loose for a 75-yard run to move the Wildcats to the Davenport 10. Though the Wildcats were forced to settle for a 22-yard Ray field goal in the first minute of the second quarter, they still upped their lead to three possessions at 17-0. “He (Mayon) is quick and he’s got a lot of body power,” Nystrom said. “He breaks tackles to hurt you and he has great vision. We also did a good job with ball security and he’s played a lot of ball here. “As he plays well, the team plays well. At the same time, we have to come up with other things except just hand off to Jake. “ The Panthers got their first chance to get on the board with the opening possession of the second half. Davenport marched deep into NMU territory, but a pitch from James to Michael Catching was fumbled near the goal line. The ‘Cats’ Pat Ryan forced the fumble that was recovered by teammate Scott Tripp in the end zone for a touchback. Though Northern couldn’t capitalize and didn’t really do anything offensively in the quarter, the defense kept the shutout alive. After taking possession at its own 40 late in the third, the visiting Panthers’ offense started going. They moved quickly downfield and got on the scoreboard when Catching trotted into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown barely more than a minute into the fourth. With the Julian Castro extra point, Davenport pulled within 17-7. The Panthers weren’t done. After Northern got just one first down between its next two possessions, Davenport put together a short 26-yard scoring drive, ending when James ran around the right side for a 13-yard TD with 5:22 remaining. The extra point pulled the Panthers within 17-14. That seemed to wake up the NMU offense, or at least Mayon. On his third rush of the possession, he weaved through a hole and sprinted up the middle for a 58-yard TD with 3:33 to go. The Wildcats’ defense salted away the victory, allowing Davenport just 4 net yards on its final two possessions. “We were fighting field position from the second quarter through the rest of the game,” Nystrom said. “It was a battle all day long and you get up 17-0 and everyone thinks that this one is in check. “It’s never in check and I told the team at halftime that you can’t get comfortable or complacent. You have to treat the score like it’s 0-0 and your execution has to be on the accelerator. “We fooled around with that and we’ve got to be better than that against Michigan Tech.” The Wildcats take on the rival Huskies at 7 p.m. Saturday in Houghton. Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.