Playing for pride, Michigan Tech preps for Wayne State

Michigan Tech's John Williams looks for space against Northern Michigan, Oct. 6, at Sherman Field. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

Teams: Wayne State Warriors (2-5, 1-4) at Michigan Tech (3-4, 2-3)

When: Saturday 1 p.m.

Where: Sherman Field.

Radio: 93.5 FM

Online: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/mtu/

Series: Wayne State leads 17-10.

Weather: 68, 40 percent chance of rain.

HOUGHTON — The character of the Michigan Tech football team will be revealed in the next four weeks.

Following a 48-0 loss to the Ashland Eagles, the Huskies have nothing to play for but pride. No conference implications. No postseason berth. Just pride. How they close a season that’s already lost will dictate how they will be remembered.

“The biggest challenge, I think, is when your team doesn’t succeed and you have to battle through it,” Tech senior running back John Williams said. “But with so many seniors on this team, I don’t think that will be an issue. Everyone wants to do good and finish strong.”

The 48-point loss is Tech’s worst loss since a 55-7 defeat to No. 1 Grand Valley State on Sept. 26, 2009. It was also the first time Tech failed to score since a 37-0 loss to Hillsdale on Sept. 15, 2007.

“We didn’t execute or play the way we wanted to,” Tech head coach Steve Olson said. “I thought our kids played hard to the end. Things weren’t going our way. We weren’t executing, but it’s not like our kids ever quit in that football game.”

Now Tech moves on to Saturday’s homecoming game with Wayne State. The contest will be the first of three home games to close the season. In addition to the Wayne State matchup, Tech will be favored the following week at Sherman Field against 1-6 (0-5 GLIAC) Davenport. The Huskies close with a trip to Tiffin (5-2, 4-1 GLIAC) and a final home contest against Ferris State (5-1, 4-1 GLIAC).

A 7-4 record would be respectable, and closing with two quality wins would propel the program into the offseason with plenty of momentum. But anything worse than 6-5 would mean back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since Tech went 2-8 in 1997 and 4-6 in 1998. And this year’s seniors don’t want to end their careers like last season’s group; Tech trailed Findlay 52-0 midway through the third quarter in last year’s season finale before eventually losing 59-21.

“What happened last year was horrible, and I could see how it affected the seniors and how sad they were about it,” Williams said. “We talked a lot about how we have to win at home and not let that happen again.”

If Tech is to have the positive end that they seek, they can’t turn the ball over like they did against Ashland. Senior quarterback Jake Brown threw four interceptions and senior back James Henderson lost a fumble.

“Big part of that is we have to make good decisions,” Olson said. “Good pre-snap thought process and good pre-snap reads. As we always say, we have to take care of the football. We say every drive should end with a kick, and ideally, each kick is an extra point.”

Tech’s power running game will look for success against the second-worst run defense in the GLIAC. Wayne State surrenders 193.7 yards per contest on the ground. But Tech’s defense hasn’t been much better against the run (eighth out of 10 in the GLIAC, 184.4 yards)

Wayne State’s offense is led by junior quarterback D.J. Zezula. He’s thrown for 15 touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 58.5 percent of his passes for 1,161 yards. Zezula made his freshman debut at Sherman Field on Sept. 3, 2015. After injuries, Zezula was forced to play despite coming into the matchup as the third-string quarterback. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns, but Tech earned a 20-15 win when Wayne State turned it over on downs at the 50 on its final possession.

But his availability for this week is unknown.

“He’s grown quite a bit,” Olson said of Zezula. “He came in the game and I thought he did a pretty good job against us a couple years ago.

“But I’m not sure what his status is. He’s a little banged up, so we’ll see where he’s at coming into the game.”