MARQUETTE - The Michigan Tech football team found itself in an inescapable hole last week at home against Grand Valley State in part due to a lackluster first half.
That was not the case Saturday against rival Northern Michigan.
"I thought we played very well early in the first half, the opposite of last week," Tech head coach Tom Kearly said. "I thought we came out of the blocks offensively and defensively."
The Huskies held nothing back during the first 30 minutes at the Superior Dome in Marquette, scoring 34 first-half points en route to a 41-17 victory and third straight Miner's Cup - the first time either school has accomplished the feat.
Tech passed up on a pair of field goals twice inside the Wildcats' 20-yard line in order to take shots at the end zone on fourth down.
On the first attempt only four minutes into the game on fourth-and-3 from the NMU 12, the Huskies turned it over on downs when Wildcat sophomore safety Derek Beltrame of Ishpeming broke up a pass from Tech sophomore quarterback Tyler Scarlett that was intended for senior tight end Bryan LaChapelle of Crystal Falls.
The second attempt on fourth-and-2 from the NMU 14 with 3:07 remaining in the first half put Tech up 34-0 as Scarlett hit senior wideout Matt Curtin in the end zone for the third time in the half.
"Usually, what I'll do is I'll ask our offensive staff, 'Do you feel good with the play you got?'" Kearly said, breaking down when to gamble on fourth down. "From what they've been seeing, if they say 'yes', we'll roll the dice a little bit and that's what we did there."
Tech's aggressive first-half offense proved pivotal because, in the second half, the Huskies' attack fell into a lull and failed to find the end zone.
The only MTU (3-1 GLIAC, 3-1 overall) score in the final 30 minutes came on a blocked punt by sophomore linebacker Dan Perrault of L'Anse that was recovered and returned 12 yards for a TD by sophomore defensive end Nelson Weinke of Kingsford with 6:56 to play.
Prior to that, the Wildcats (0-5, 1-5) had awakened, and were making things interesting minus two key players on offense.
Senior running back and leading rusher Prince Young was suspended Saturday prior to the game for a violation of team rules stemming from a court appearance on Thursday.
In the third quarter, Northern lost redshirt freshman starting quarterback Ryan Morley. He was knocked unconscious on a legal tackle from behind that drove him head-first into the Superior Dome's artificial turf.
Morley regained consciousness quickly and walked off on his own power, but is doubtful to play next week, according to NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky.
"He was pretty out of it," Ostrowsky said. "Initially, I was concerned he was really lost a little bit there."
With Morley done, senior Cody Scepaniak - who threw only eight passes last season after transferring in from Alfred State College in New York to back up Carter Kopach - came in and led the Wildcats on a pair of touchdown drives.
The first included a 25-yard pass to sophomore wideout Julian Gaines to the Tech 15, capped by a 15-yard run by junior wide receiver Christian Jessie on a direct snap.
The second was a single play - a 77-yard toss and catch between Scepaniak to Jessie after a Tech defensive back fell down.
"(Scepaniak) has gotten mental reps, has been prepared, sat there and waited and went on the field today and played like you would expect an older guy to play," Ostrowsky said. "I was really happy for him."
Scepaniak finished the game 6 of 11 passing for 130 yards and a touchdown, while Morley was 11 of 24 for 63 yards, an interception and no touchdowns before being sidelined.
Gaines led the Wildcat offense with five catches for 48 yards, but it was Jessie who racked up the yardage - 96 yards on three catches, 27 yards on three carries, and 119 yards on five kick returns with a 77-yard return coming in the fourth quarter.
All three carries for Jessie came on direct snaps with Morley once and Scepaniak twice splitting out wide in what many would call the "wildcat formation," even if Ostrowsky says that's not what Northern calls it.
"I'm very comfortable in it," Jessie said. "In high school, I played quarterback. I ran a spread option so its nothing new to me.
"I just like getting the ball in my hands and seeing what I can do with it."
Scarlett, who threw for 441 yards and five TDs last week, was held to a modest 275 yards and three TDs on 19 of 36 passing.
He was intercepted once by Beltrame in the third quarter and caught a TD pass in the first quarter on a reverse-turned-pass from senior wide receiver Ethan Shaver of Menominee.
All three of Scarlett's passing TDs went to Curtin, who finished with seven catches for 171 yards a week after nabbing 11 passes for 190 yards and four TDs in the loss to GVSU.
"We have some good chemistry going right now," Curtin said about himself and Scarlett. "I think it all stems from practice.
"We work a lot on route running and throwing and catching practice."