Football team runs away from NMU, 41-13

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In front of more than 7,000 fans on Homecoming night, SVSU exploded for 416 rushing yards and 41 points en route to a blowout win over Northern Michigan.

The 416 yards on the ground were the most an SVSU team had gained since 1998, and the points were the most scored since 2013.

The game remained close for three quarters, but SVSU pulled away late and walked away with a win and a 4-2 record.

“Our players did a heck of a job preparing all week,” head coach Jim Collins said. “They took the momentum from the great things that happened in the first half and built on them in the second half hats off to them for being able to close and finish the way they did.”

SVSU received the opening kickoff and immediately drove into Wildcat territory after a long run by Myrick El Jr. on their first play from scrimmage and a long pass completed to receiver Marq Johnson a few plays later. The promising SVSU drive ended on a third down, when quarterback Jacob LeClair fumbled, surrendering the ball to NMU.

SVSU took the ball back one play later, when NMU quarterback Shayne Brown was intercepted by SVSU defensive back Matt McKoy. The Cardinal offense drove right back into Wildcat territory with a mix of run and pass. On a third-and-one, SVSU running back David Nay scampered within the 10-yard line for a Cardinal first down and a first and goal opportunity. The drive stalled there, and SVSU brought on the field goal unit as LeClair limped off the field to the sideline, where he would remain for the rest of the contest. Nonetheless, Alex Kenrick’s field goal gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead off the NMU turnover.

“It was really important,” Collins said. “We haven’t scored a lot of first half points this season as an offense, and we knew it was going to be important, with as potent of an offense as they had, for us to get on the board early.”

Redshirt sophomore Ryan Conklin was in at quarterback on the next SVSU drive, where he scampered for a 22-yard gain on his first play from scrimmage.

“My head’s always in the game,” Conklin said. “I had a little injury at the beginning of the year, but once I was able to play, my head was always in the game. You’re always one play away no matter what’s going on.”

One play later, SVSU running back Jermaih Johnson fumbled, giving the ball right back to NMU.

On the first play of the second quarter, Brown connected with Paris Woods for a 52-yard completion, bringing the ball to the SVSU four-yard line. Brown’s next pass went to Mitch Heaton for a Wildcat touchdown, giving NMU a 7-3 lead.

On the ensuing Cardinal drive, David Nay took a third-and-one all the way to the Wildcat 14-yard line, a 48-yard carry. A Conklin pass intended for Johnson fell incomplete, but an NMU pass interference call gave the SVSU offense a first-and-goal from the two-yard line. On third-and-goal, Nay went untouched into the end zone for a Cardinal score. Kenrick’s extra point made it 10-7 Cardinals with 9:44 left in the half.

“Our offensive line and our receivers did a great job of blocking, and then the backs really took advantage of that open space,” Collins said. “More than anything tonight, we had a bunch of explosive plays.”

After the defense forced a punt, the beginning of the next Cardinal drive didn’t look promising after a fumbled snap, but a third-and-10 completion to Alfonso Vultaggio for 36 yards had the Cardinal offense back in business. Another completion to Vultaggio a few plays later brought SVSU into the red zone once again. The drive would stall from there, as two passes intended for Johnson fell incomplete, but another Kenrick field goal, this one from 31 yards out, would extend the Cardinal lead to 13-7 with just over two minutes remaining in the half.

NMU wasted no time getting back into Cardinal territory, as Brown connected with Michael Akinlade for 40 yards bringing the ball to the SVSU 19-yard line. A few plays later, SVSU came up with another huge turnover. Marvin White intercepted Brown, giving the ball back to SVSU with 37 seconds remaining the half.

SVSU took a knee and a 13-7 lead into halftime. The Cardinals dominated the half statistically, outgaining NMU 255-103 and holding possession for more than 23 minutes.

“The good thing was, we were moving the football,” Collins said. “We got in there at halftime and told our guys it was a good first half; we didn’t finish drives like we needed to, and that was going to be the key in the second half.”

After one half of play, LeClair was 6 of 9 passing, and Conklin was 4 of 8. Nay led the rushing attack with 74 yards, and linebacker Michael Alexander had four tackles and a sack.

The Cardinal defense forced its third turnover of the game early in the third quarter, when Dillon Dixon forced a Wildcat fumble that the Cardinals then pounced on to get possession back.

“We knew the game defensively would be put into the hands of the defensive backs,” Dixon said. “We knew we had to find ways to get the ball back to our offense so they could make plays.”

A deep pass over the middle hit Max Corcoran for a long gain on the ensuing SVSU possession, and Jermaih Johnson did the rest, as he took a carry 60 yards to the end zone. The extra point made it 20-7 Cardinals with 5:31 remaining in the third quarter.

A few possessions later, NMU drove within the SVSU 10-yard line, but the Cardinal defense held on fourth-and-goal to keep NMU from closing the score gap.

On the next drive, SVSU pulled away for good on De’Juan James’ 56-yard touchdown run, making the score 27-7.

A Dixon interception was the Cardinals fourth forced turnover of the night, and Jermaih Johnson scored his second touchdown of the night, this one from 61 yards out, to give the Cardinals a commanding 34-7 lead.

“The offensive line was the key to our success for the most part,” Johnson said. “The running backs played pretty well and made some guys miss, but it was really the offensive line, they played their hearts out.”

A late NMU score closed the gap, but SVSU scored one final time on a Myrick El Jr. touchdown run, leaving the final score at 41-13 in favor of the Cards.

For SVSU, the attention will now turn to a road bout with Wayne State in two weeks, and their starting quarterback situation.

“(LeClair) rolled his ankle, so we’ll see,” Collins said. “We’ll evaluate it on a day-to-day basis.”

Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. at Wayne State on Oct. 22.

“Wayne State has been playing great football,” Collins said. “We haven’t seen much of them, but in the little we’ve seen, they’ve been very physical on defense, and they’ve been running the football very well. It’s going to be a great challenge.“

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