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Legends: When MTU football did a reversal

Michigan Tech football coach Bernie Anderson is shown during a 2005 game in Houghton. (Courtesy Photo/Michigan Tech University)

HOUGHTON — As improbable stories go, the reversal of the 2004 Michigan Tech football team is one of the most remarkable in local sports history.

On the verge of being eliminated as a program just two years earlier by the university’s board of control, the team bounced back in a big way.

Bernie Anderson, then the MTU coach, said the efforts of a group of alumni — many of those former football players — made the difference.

“Those people stepped up big time and saved the program,” Anderson said at the time. “We wouldn’t have made it any other way.”

The Huskies improved to 5-5 in the 2003 season and then took off the next campaign.

Led by standouts Dan Mettlach, Joe Berger and Lee Marana, the Huskies won their first nine games of the season and attained a No. 1 ranking in Division II polls.

 It was the first time in school history for that achievement.

Mettach, who starred at Gwinn High School, was a versatile quarterback.

In 2004, he accounted for more than 2,000 yards in total offense and 20 touchdowns.

“He (Mettlach) was exceptionally quick,” Anderson said in a 2013 interview. “He was probably the quickest quarterback ever to play here.”

Berger anchored the offensive line with his size and nimble feet. Those skills would earn him All-American laurels and a career in the National Football League.

Most of his 13 years in the NFL were spent with the Minnesota Vikings.

Marana, a hard-nosed product out of Negaunee High School, was a punishing runner. He ran for 1,529 yards in 2004 and scored 21 times.

Andy Bonk gained  All-American honors at linebacker as well in 2004.

The GLIAC individual awards were dominated by MTU, and Anderson was named Coach of the Year.

Unfortunately — the final game of the season versus Grand Valley — proved costly as Mettlach, Marana and Berger were lost to injuries early on. and the contest was dominated by Grand Valley.

The game was played at the University of Michigan Stadium and was billed as the “Bash at the Big House.”

Still missing its injured stars, Tech was defeated in the Division II playoffs a week later by North Dakota State by a 20-3 score.

Anderson went on to coach at Northern Michigan University before retiring a few years ago.

Tom Kearly took over as head coach and enjoyed success with a 70-44 record that included a nine-win season in 2014.

Mettlach coached briefly at Finlandia University, and is now the offensive coordinator at Tech under Steve Olson.

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