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Miscues abound as Huskies’ lose 12-9 to St. Thomas

Michigan Tech running back Jared Smith (3) rushes against the University of St. Thomas on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Houghton, Mich. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Miscues marred Michigan Tech’s 12-9 loss to the University of St. Thomas on Saturday.

As a result, the Tommies (1-0) celebrated their first win as a Division I FCS program at Sherman Field at Kearly Stadium. It was also the first-ever football game the school played in the state of Michigan, and the first time playing a Division II opponent.

That’s a lot of firsts for one day, and Tech can look back to Saturday and find almost as many miscues.

The Huskies (1-1) were slow going offensively most of the day, and were bailed out by a touchdown from special teams in the first quarter. The Huskies were also carried throughout the day by another strong defensive performance, at least until the Tommies’ offense surged in the fourth quarter.

The Tommies were held to just 83 yards of offense in the first half, but gained 93 yards alone in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Tommies finally got their break. Quarterback Tommy Dolan tried to sneak the ball from the Huskies 1 for the score, but fumbled. Tight end Aiden Carlson recovered the ball in the end zone for the only offensive score of the day.

The score came after the Tommies were given a first down after a Huskies pass interference on third-and-16 from the Tommies’ 33. The Tommies then completed a 41-yard flea flicker from Dolan to Max Zimmerman, setting up a first-and-10 at the Huskies’ 11.

Huskies’ defensive lineman Nate LaJoie blocked the point after to keep the game tied at 9-all.

The Huskies got the ball back at their 26, and went three-and-out, punting on a fourth-and-13. A botched 16-yard punt by Drew Wyble set the Tommies up comfortably in the Huskies’ half of the field at the 39. That drive led to a field goal to give the Tommies the lead with 59 seconds left.

The Huskies drove from their 25 to the Tommies’ 35 in the final minute before Huskies quarterback Will Ark threw a pass into double-coverage, intended for receiver Jordan Janssen, but intercepted by Johnson Fallah with 14 seconds left in the game. The Tommies knelt the ball twice before and after the Huskies’ final timeout to run out the clock.

“When we look back at this game, we’ll watch the film (Sunday) and see what we did right and see what we did wrong,” Huskies head coach Steve Olson said. “We’re just making a few too many mistakes and that’s allowing them to win in a close game, as opposed to us winning in a close game. We just gotta continue to get better from here and keep working hard.”

Ark didn’t mince words after the loss.

“Myself, I think I need to be better,” Ark said. “Obviously we need to execute everywhere, all 11, but I need to be better. I think everybody knows I need to be better as well.”

The Huskies had hung on throughout the day despite an offense that didn’t find rhythm. Tech punted twice and fumbled in its first three offensive drives. The Huskies then turned the ball over on downs and kicked a field goal.

But special teams had set up Tech with the early lead. Huskies cornerback Marvin Wright blocked a Tommies punt and Fred Kemp returned it 38 yards for the touchdown six and a half minutes into the game.

But the Huskies offense finally crossed midfield three minutes into the second quarter, a drive that ended on a failed fourth-down conversion attempt.

Tech’s defense forced a three-and-out, and the next offensive drive began at the Huskeis 37 and got to a first-and-goal at the Tommies’ 10 before stalling and ended with a field goal.

The Huskies’ defense racked up six sacks after getting seven last week against Hillsdale.

It was the only four plays the Huskies ran in the Tommies’ red zone all day.

“We’ve got a bye week to continue to get better, and that’s the main thing,” Olson said. “The first thing is we got to get better this week regardless of Grand Valley. And then from there, then we got to put in a good week, getting ready for a very good football team. That’s the challenge in front of us and we’ll be up to it.”

St. Thomas was 3 of 4 on red zone chances.

Ark completed 19 of 29 passes for 144 yards and an interception. Jordan Janssen was Ark’s most prolific target. Janssen caught nine passes for 79 yards.

William Marano rushed 51 yards on 11 carries for Tech. Smith rushed 28 yards on 13 carries.

Braxton Blackwell, John Paramski, Austin Schlicht, Marc Sippel, Josh Cribben, James Daanen and LaJoie each had sacks for the Huskies.

Blackwell led Huskies’ defense with four solo tackles and five assisted. Michael Bates had five tackles. Samuel Kinne had three tackles.

Dolan completed 13 of 23 passes for 184 yards. Tom Loeffler led Tommies’ rushing with 26 yards on 14 carries. Xavier Thurman caught three passes for 62 yards for St. Thomas.

It was the first-ever matchup between the teams. The Tommies jumped to the Division I Football Championship Subdivision after more than 100 years in Division III.

Michigan Tech hosts No. 14 Grand Valley State on Sept. 25.

St. Thomas visits the University of Northern Iowa on Saturday.

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