Just about any way you slice it, the Michigan Tech football team had a successful season. The primary proof of that success comes in the form of a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North Division championship, just the second such title in school history. The Huskies earned it with two straight wins to finish the year and a little help from Saginaw Valley State beating Grand Valley State Saturday.
The other title came in 2004 with a 9-1 record under former head coach Bernie Anderson. It was shared with Northwood that year. This year, Tech's 7-3 record was good enough for a four-way share, with Grand Valley State, Hillsdale and Saginaw Valley.
Looking even closer at the standings, the crazy level of parity extends throughout the entire GLIAC. Ohio Dominican and Findlay from the South Division also had 7-3 records, giving six of the 16 conference teams that record.
The only playoff representative from the GLIAC is Ashland, which finished 10-0. But, upon closer inspection of the Eagles' schedule, they didn't have to play any of the four GLIAC North Division champions.
"There's just some very good football teams, especially on the north side. Four of us tie for it. That tells you right there the parity," said seventh-year Tech coach Tom Kearly of his first conference title as head coach. "One more win and you win it outright, but that's a lot easier said than done."
There are several common threads in each of Tech's three losses, a 51-43 loss to Grand Valley State, a 56-49 loss at Ferris State and a 34-23 loss at Saginaw Valley.
Despite losing by only a combined 26 points, Tech got behind in each game, by as much as 37 against GVSU, 21 against Ferris and 18 against SVSU. But more than anything, in each of the losses, the Huskies were on the wrong end of three outstanding quarterback/receiver combinations.
Laker quarterback Isiah Grimes passed for 411 yards and three touchdowns, 165 yards and three of those touchdowns to wide receiver Charles Johnson.
Bulldog quarterback John Vander Laan passed for 357 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns. Wideout Jake Lampman had 239 receiving yards and a pair of TDs.
Cardinal quarterback Jonathan Jennings passed for 342 yards and three touchdowns, all three to wide receiver Jeff Janis, who tallied 226 receiving yards.
"We played a couple ballgames against great skill sets in Grand Valley and Saginaw and Ferris, who had a lot of weapons, but by and large we held up quite well defensively," Kearly said. "If you said before the season we'd lose 10 starters from last year and still be second in the league in rushing defense (118.3 yards allowed per game), and fifth in scoring defense (23.8 points per game allowed), I'd take that."
Granted, Tech had the second-worst pass defense, but with so many question marks entering the year, including losing five senior starters from the 2011 secondary, the 'D' did its job, including leading the GLIAC with 32 sacks.
Offensively, Tech certainly had a lethal QB/WR combo of its own, pacing the third-best passing offense (266.7 yards per game). Sophomore quarterback Tyler Scarlett set single-season records for passing yards (2,596) and touchdowns (28), against only four interceptions. The old records were 2,406 yards (his own from 2011) and 20 touchdowns (Dan Mettlach in 2004). Wide receiver Matt Curtin set school records for most touchdowns in a game (four) and in a season (12) - even while missing the final 2 1/2 games with a knee injury.
Tech was in the top five in the GLIAC, fifth to be exact, in three major special teams categories: kickoff returns (22.2 yard average), punt returns (11.5 yard average) and kickoff coverage (39.6 yard net average). Kicker Garret Mead also converted all three of his field goal attempts, the only perfect percentage in the GLIAC.
"You'd like to win one or two more ballgames. You always look back at your losses and the how comes, whys and ifs but there's also the time we came from two scores down against Northwood at home, that pick by Emmett Bjorn that prevented Walsh from taking the lead," Kearly said. "I thought we had a lot of kids have their best years as seniors and really we played well all year."
Every season has its woulda/coulda/shouldas, but Tech can now enter the offseason with high hopes once again for next year. The Huskies have now finished with at least six wins in eight of the last nine years, tallying a 58-31 record in that span (65.2 win percentage).
Coaches will now shift their focus to recruiting, while players will have until the end of Thanksgiving break off before a two-week lifting program. After that they'll have a month off for Christmas.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/steander and interact throughout the week about Tech hockey, football and volleyball with the #mtuhky, #mtufb and #mtuvb hashtags.