MARQUETTE, Mich. -- The Northern Michigan University Football team drove 51-yards in 1:18 late in the fourth quarter, but came up just short as the Wildcats fell to Saginaw Valley State University 20-12 in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference action Saturday.
Down 20-12 with 1:21 left in the game, freshman quarterback Ryan Johnson (DePere, Wisc./Ashwaubenon) started the NMU final drive on the Wildcat 20-yard line. Johnson found sophomore Ryan Knight (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Eastern) for 19-yards. He then threw complete to senior Julian Crum (Country Club Hills, Ill./St. Rita of Cascia) for 16-yards to get the Wildcats to the SVSU 45-yard line. On the drive's third play, Johnson found redshirt freshman Ravon Johnson (Willowbrook, Ill./Hinsdale South) for 11-yards and then found freshman Dallas Dixon (Phoenix, Ariz./Tolleson) for 16-yards to get NMU to the SVSU 18-yard line.
On the next play, the Johnson inched the Wildcats closer, finding Crum again for three-yards. However, a bad snap led to Johnson losing 14-yards, taking NMU back to the Saginaw Valley 29-yard line. After missing junior Jake Mayon (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield East) the Wildcats faced fourth and 21 from the SVSU 29-yard line. On the team's final play Johnson was intercepted at the one-line, ending the Wildcats final drive.
Johnson finished the game with a career-high, throwing for 363 yards and finished 20-30 on the day. His 363 yards are the most by an NMU quarterback in nearly two years, when NMU threw for 371 yards against Ashland on October 24, 2015. Redshirt freshman Tanner Kruzel (Boyne City, Mich./Boyne City) led the receivers with 118 yards on four receptions. Knight added 106 yards and a touchdown and also had four receptions. Crum chipped in with a team-high five receptions for 34 yards.
Defensively, senior Darryl Williams (Cooper City, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) led the way with 13 total tackles, including two for loss. Sophomore Troy Mayon (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield East) notched 11 and senior Pat Ryan (Linden, Mich.) posted 10. Sophomore Nick Barnes (Chicago, Ill./Hales Franciscan) tallied three pass breakups as redshirt freshman Deantae Young (Clinton Township, Mich./Chippewa Valley) contributed two.
The Wildcats streak of scoring on the first drive came to a close as the teams fought through a scoreless first quarter. The Cardinals finally put points on the board with a 20-yard field goal just 42 seconds into the second quarter to move ahead 3-0.
On NMU's second drive of the quarter, the Wildcats answered as freshman Dalton Ray (Clemont, Fla./Lake Menneola) put a field goal through the uprights, making it from 49-yards out, tying the game at 3-3.
However, SVSU would find the end zone with 48 seconds remaining in the half to take a 10-3 lead entering halftime.
In the third quarter, NMU moved closer as Ray hit his second field goal of the game, this time from 19-yards out. Johnson hit Kruzel for 22-yards and then hit junior Michael Akinlade (Birmingham, England/St. Matthew Academy) for a 49-yard gain on a screen pass to get the Wildcats down to the SVSU five-yard line. Northern Michigan thought they had scored a Mayon touchdown, but a holding call brought the ball back out to the 13-yard line. Mayon then rumbled back down to the five-yard line, but the drive stalled forcing the field goal.
The Cardinals responded with their second touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter to go up 17-6. This time NMU answered quickly as Johnson found Knight in stride behind the defense on their second play of the drive. The Wildcats then tried for the two-point conversion but were unsuccessful, narrowing the SVSU lead to 17-12.
On their next drive Saginaw Valley extended the lead with a 32-yard field goal, pushing the score 20-12.
NMU stalled on their next drive, but were able to stop the next SVSU drive and forced a punt, allowing the Wildcats their last-minute drive attempt which came up short, causing the 20-12 final score.
Northern Michigan fell to 1-6 on the season and 1-5 in the GLIAC. Saginaw Valley improved to 4-4 on the season, 2-4 in the league. NMU will look to build on their passing game as they head to #7 Grand Valley State University next Saturday.