HOUGHTON, Mich. – Following a scoreless stalemate in the first half against Hillsdale College, Michigan Tech junior quarterback Will Ark connected with both Jordan Janssen and Hunter Richards in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, catapulting the Huskies to a 14-10 victory in the 2021 football season opener Saturday afternoon at Kearly Stadium in front of 1,767 fans. It was the first counting game for the team in 647 days following the cancellation of the 2020 regular season.
“It feels so good to win today,” said head coach Steve Olson. “With all the adversity and things our team had to overcome over the past two years to get here, it really means a lot to us and I’m very, very proud of them.”
Julian Lee made a 20-yard field goal at the conclusion of the third quarter to put the Chargers on the scoreboard first. Lee’s kick came after an 11 play, 73-yard drive. Ark then laid in a 43-yard pass up the middle of the field to Janssen, who jogged in for the touchdown. The score ended a 3-play, 58-yard drive for the Huskies and took the clock down to 10 minutes, 38 seconds.
“I had a post route and I saw the safety come down and got inside the corner,” Janssen said. “Will was able to lay it up and the rest is history. He gave me a good ball and then I had the easy part.”
Hillsdale quarterback Luke Keller responded with a 20-yard pass to tight end Michael Harding that got Hillsdale to the Michigan Tech 25. He then completed a 19-yard toss to Alec Foos on fourth and five, which put the Chargers at the Tech 1-yard line.
Keller capped the drive with a quarterback sneak for the score that put the Chargers ahead 10-7 with 4:45 to play. With three timeouts and a manageable amount of time on the clock, Ark engineered an 8-play, 65-yard effort ending in the Richards touchdown pass. On the play, Ark floated the ball to the back right of the end zone and Richards stayed above his defender and kept his feet in bounds with 1:14 remaining.
Following a short kickoff, Sam Ahern intercepted Keller’s pass through the middle of the field at the Michigan Tech 40-yard line to break up a potential Hillsdale final drive comeback.
The Husky defense was stellar all afternoon and held the Charger offense to minus-six total yards and zero first downs in the first half. Senior Marvin Wright picked up a sack in his return at linebacker after missing the entire 2019 season due to injury. Josh Cribben, Austin Schlict, and Nate LaJoie also pitched in sack stats to pressure Keller.
“It was a total team effort for us today,” Wright said. “We made some mistakes but, in the end, we made enough plays to win the game and that’s all that matters. It’s been three years and a long journey for me personally, but I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of guys that this team. It’s a brotherhood.”
Though the Huskies struggled to move the ball with just 77 total yards of offense in the opening half, including a missed field goal attempt, Tech’s offense eventually found its range. Ark completed 16 of 32 passes for 238 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Jared Smith led the ground game with 63 yards on 18 rushing attempts.
“You always go into halftime and figure out where you need to make adjustments,” Olson said. “For us it was mostly about continuing to work hard and then execute better. Jared (Smith) was able to run the ball effectively and that really set the tone for the things we could do offensively the rest of the game.”
Smith’s longest rush was 13 yards. Janssen was targeted the most in the air with 115 yards on seven completions. Richards also ended with 81 yards off six catches.
Michigan Tech (1-0) hosts NCAA Division I St. Thomas (0-0) next on Saturday, September 11 at 1:10 p.m. EST. The Tommies had their first game of the fall against St. Francis (Illinois) canceled over the weekend. The Huskies have won each of the last three matchups against the Chargers, though Hillsdale College still leads the all-time series 19-11.