HOUGHTON - Even with a 6-3 record, the Michigan Tech football team still has a chance to earn a share of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North Division championship this weekend, but to have that chance the Huskies will have to take down last year's Division II national runner-up, Wayne State.
Tech makes the trek to Detroit for its final game of the season against the Warriors, who have lost quite a bit of talent from last year's squad, including an All-American on each side of the football.
They only have a 5-4 record (overall and in the GLIAC), but their losses have come to the same three teams Tech has lost to in addition to undefeated Ashland, who the Huskies were fortunate to not have to face out of the South Division.
"They're still very solid. Both lines are very good. They're very physical up front," Tech coach Tom Kearly said. "They lost some good players, but they're relatively the same. They maybe just haven't had the breaks. They've lost a couple close games that they won a year ago."
Wayne State is 17-6 all-time against Tech, including a 27-10 win last year, but the Huskies have won two of the last three and five of the last nine.
"It's a big ballgame for us. We mathematically have a chance at this time, and that's what we've preached all week, but we're playing a good football team. That's the thing we can't lose sight of."
If the Huskies take care of business in their noon kickoff, then they can start watching the scoreboard for the result of the Grand Valley State (8-2, 7-2 GLIAC) at Saginaw Valley State (7-3, 6-3 GLIAC) 1 p.m. game. If Tech wins and GVSU loses, there will be a three-way tie atop the North Division with a 7-3 conference record, and Tech's share of the title would be just its second GLIAC title in school history (2004 was the other).
"It's not only our last game, but we still have a lot to play for because you never know what's going to happen with the Saginaw Valley and Grand Valley game," Tech safety Emmett Bjorn said. "It's not very often you can say you're GLIAC champs."
If that's not enough incentive with playoffs out of the picture, the long offseason ahead should be.
"Everyone on the team is going to be thinking about this game for the next eight months, so we have to leave it all out on the field," Bjorn said.
Without last year's best running back, Josh Renel, and All-American wide receiver Troy Burrell, WSU has struggled to just 22.2 points per game, 12th of 16 GLIAC teams (Tech is fourth with 38.8 points per game). They still have a senior quarterback in Mickey Mohner who will at least manage the game.
But of the two quarterbacks in the game, Tech has to feel pretty good about its sophomore signal-caller Tyler Scarlett, who reset his own school records in season passing yards (2,427) and touchdown passes (25) last week, garnering GLIAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
"I'm not a huge stats guy. I'm more about wins and how the team does," said Scarlett, who completed 18 of 24 passes for 247 yards and four touchdowns in last week's 42-14 home-finale win over Hillsdale. "I'd much rather have a couple more wins, so we'd be looking better in the standings than breaking records.
"We definitely want to get a win here, and if we get a little help from Saginaw at Grand Valley we have a chance at a tie for the North Division championship. That's on the line. We can't control other stuff, but we can control what we can do."
Tech's passing attack in particular will have to be on its "A" game against Wayne State's GLIAC-leading passing defense, which Scarlett said is so challenging due to the wide variety of looks they use, moving players to different spots and constantly mixing things up.
"They're good, but we just have be accurate with the football," Kearly said. "Tyler's been accurate all year. We have to get open against man coverage, and we've done a good job at that. We've thrown the ball as well as we probably ever have."
Now, relative to the parity in the incredibly competitive North Division, Tech has a chance to finish as well as it ever has.