HOUGHTON - The Hillsdale and Michigan Tech football teams find themselves in a similar situation.
After a promising start to the season, both programs have stumbled recently with consecutive losses. The two schools were part of the four-way tie atop last season's GLIAC North Division, and have plenty of returners from those title teams.
And both need two straight wins to finish the season with a winning record.
That final shared interest is the chalkboard motivation for Tech (4-4).
While losses to Ferris State and Saginaw have eliminated any chance of defending their North Division title, the prospect of finishing with more wins than losses for the fourth consecutive season and sending the senior class off winners drives the Huskies to practice in sub-40 temperatures every day.
"It's just playing for my teammates," Tech quarterback Tyler Scarlett said. "We have seniors who only have two more games left. And all the hard work we have put in during the offseason for this team, making sure it pays off, that kind of thing."
To make that happen, the Huskies will need to rediscover the run defense that has been so dominant the last two seasons, but gone absent in the Ferris and Saginaw losses.
The Bulldogs and Cardinals each totaled over 300 yards on the ground at Tech's expense as experienced, physical offensive lines won out.
The Chargers (4-5) rank No. 12 in rushing yards in the 15-team conference, having dealt with injury issues at running back this season after the loss of 4,500-yard rusher and Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Joe Glendening to graduation after the 2012 season.
"Statistic-wise they haven't had it this year," Tech head coach Tom Kearly said. "But they have a very senior-laden offensive line (four senior starters). And we know, you have to run the football and you have to be able to stop the run. Those are two things we predicate our program on. We need to stop the run. The last two weeks there have been way too many running plays of seven or more yards. Just way too many."
Tech won last year's contest with a dominant 42-14 showing, also coming off consecutive losses to Ferris and Saginaw.
Scarlett and the passing game helped carry the day last season, with Scarlett accounting for 247 yards passing and four touchdowns with a 75 percent completion rate.
Numbers like those have been rare for the junior this season, as his completion percentage has fallen from 64 percent his sophomore season (and 66 percent his freshman year) to 56 percent this season. His yards per attempt are also down from 8.3 per pass to 7.7 this season.
The drop off in the passing stats has reflected a lack of crispness on the offensive end, where failures to mount drives in crucial moments have prevented Tech from regaining last year's championship form.
Neither Scarlett nor Kearly can explain the down-numbers, with anything from new wide receivers, game-situation, a lack of a game-breaking tight end or just dumb luck accounting for the eight percent drop in completions.
"I can't put one thing on it. Just little stuff," Scarlett said. "You always strive to be above 60 percent each game, and we have only got that once or twice."