Huskies football excited to be home, but still has work to do
HOUGHTON — Trailing 24-0 on Saturday against Upper Iowa, the Michigan Tech Huskies football team took a big step forward, scoring 34 of the game’s next 41 points in order to come away with a 34-31 win, and a 3-0 start to their season.
Coach Dan Mettlach could point to one play as being a key moment in the contest, an interception by senior defensive back Michael Bates Jr. that led to a touchdown to get the Huskies on the board.
“We got the big pick-six right before the half,” he said. “That kind of, I don’t want to say settled everything down, but got the guys some kind of positivity before the half, because, at that point, it wasn’t going real well on either side of the ball.
“We made some changes in the second half, and opened up the third quarter with it, had some success with it. So we just rolled with that. Offensively, defensively, I thought we made some good adjustments.”
Of course, with the success on the scoreboard came better fundamental football.
“To be honest with you, I thought as a whole, we tackled better in the second half, stayed on blocks in the second half,” said Mettlach. “Guys made plays offensively.”
Rather than address the team at half time with a dressing down, Mettlach said that he and his staff sat back and watched the players take ownership of the situation themselves, which proved effective.
“It was really cool at half time to see the guys kind of take ownership of the situation themselves,” Mettlach said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of yelling and screaming going on by anybody on the staff. The guys were real calm, and knew we had a whole half to play. (We) were going to go down swinging, at least.”
Once that proverbial switch was flipped, the Huskies took control.
“Our guys felt like we couldn’t get the ball back fast enough,” said Mettlach. “Just get it back to us, and things were going well.”
One of the highlights of the second half was the play of sophomore wide receiver Ethan Champney, who continues to develop week in and week out for the Huskies. After seeing no targets for a large portion of the game, he catches a ball in the fourth quarter and explodes for 73 yards and a key touchdown.
“He’s playing ball right now,” Mettlach said. “For him to make the play he did on the 73-yard touch on a reception, catches it in traffic, breaks two tackles, and then runs away from the rest of the defense. After a game where he didn’t have many targets, had zero touches at that point, to stay locked in,…to go to zero targets up to that point, and still be mentally where he needed to be, when he got his opportunity. He made that play. (It) says a lot about where he’s at maturity-wise right now.”
While that was the only catch he had on the afternoon, Champney was not done putting his stamp on the contest. With 7:42 remaining, he took a screen pass from junior quarterback Alex Fries behind the line of scrimmage and then tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Brandon Michalak in the end zone, capping a three-play, 32-yard drive, and tying the contest at 31-31.
“They had an injury at that time that allowed us to bring the guys over to the sideline,” said Mettlach. “We were able to talk about it as a group, and … it just played out perfectly. There was a huge wind. I don’t know if you could see that on the TV or not, but kept the ball down and obviously Brandon was standing up by himself. So, it was just one of those situations where (it is) just don’t miss him if we have him, and thankfully they executed it.”
Along with the big passing plays, the Huskies also had a career day from fifth-year running back Will Marano, who rushed 20 times for 147 yards. Mettlach felt that Marano was one of a very few players who was working as hard as possible the entire game, which helped lead to his personal success.
“He’s one of those voices in the locker room, in our weight room, on the practice field,” Mettlach said. “He is constantly doing the right thing, works his butt off, is the most team guy that there might be in our locker room. He’s always going to do whatever it takes to help us win a football game.
“We did give him some holes at the initial point of these plays on Saturday, but the yards after contact (were all his work), There were two runs that come to mind right now where we are not real happy about it as staff watching it back on Sunday, because there’s one guy out of the 11 guys wearing a Tech jersey that is playing his butt off, and it’s a guy carrying the football.. Everybody else is standing there watching him.”
SCOUTING THE PANTHERS
The Huskies return to the friendly confines of Kearly Stadium this Saturday to host the No. 18 Davenport Panthers. Like the Huskies, the Panthers are 3-0, with wins over Thomas More, Bowie State, and William Jewell, all at home. The Panthers are scoring 36.67 points per game thus far, which is a big key to their early-season success.
Fifth-year quarterback Jason Whittaker leads the offense with a completion percentage of 53.76% and five touchdown passes.
Junior running back Myren Harris has been very strong, leading the team on the ground with 43 carries for 353 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Caleef Jenkins has also been strong with 33 carries for 98 yards.
Junior wide receiver Preston Smith leads the team in catches with 13, good for 201 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Peyton Brown has eight catches for 181 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, fifth-year linebacker Julius Wilkerson has 13 solo tackles and two tackles for loss. Junior defensive lineman Geemontae Peck has also been very tough to defend. He leads the Panthers with 3.5 sacks for a total loss of 33 yards.
When Mettlach was asked what the Panthers do well, he had a very simple answer: everything.
“(They’re) big, athletic, fast,” he said. “They’re deep. … They’ve got talent all over the field. They’re going to be aggressive on the edges, offensively, so we’re going to start seeing more man coverage.(They are a) very high-pressure team. So, they’re going to heat up the (quarterback).”
The opening kickoff between the Huskies and Panthers is set for 1 p.m. at Kearly Stadium Saturday.