MARQUETTE - In 2011, the Northern Michigan University special teams lost the Wildcats' games.
Saturday inside the Superior Dome, the Northern punting and kicking units rallied the 'Cats to victory while knocking Saginaw Valley State out of the NCAA Division II football playoff picture.
"We deserved victory today," NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said. "It was an awesome win for us on so many different levels.
"This one is going to be a tough one for the nay-sayers to find a reason why we won this. That makes us pretty happy."
NMU senior kicker Rockne Belmonte hit four field goals, the punting unit recovered three SVSU fumbles and the kickoff team caught the Cardinals by surprise with an onside kick to give Northern its third win in four games, 33-28.
After starting off the season 1-5 with the lone win coming against NCAA Div. III Wisconsin-La Crosse, the Wildcats enter the 2012 season finale against Ferris State next Saturday at 4-6 overall and 3-6 in the GLIAC.
NMU 33, SVSU 28
Saginaw Valley State71470 - 28
Northern Michigan76317 - 33
3:15 SV - Jeff Janis 57 yd pass from J. Jennings (Scott Stanford kick), 2-58 0:44, SV 7 - NM 0
0:46 NM - C. Jessie 41 yd pass from Cody Scepaniak (Rockne Belmonte kick), 5-58 2:15, SV 7 - NM 7
9:11 NM - Rockne Belmonte 36 yd field goal, 4-6 1:15, SV 7 - NM 10
6:50 SV - Jeff Janis 39 yd pass from J. Jennings (Scott Stanford kick), 6-79 2:16, SV 14 - NM 10
2:20 SV - J. Jennings 9 yd run (Scott Stanford kick), 9-69 2:52, SV 21 - NM 10
0:00 NM - Rockne Belmonte 55 yd field goal, 9-49 2:14, SV 21 - NM 13
12:02 NM - Rockne Belmonte 49 yd field goal, 4-5 1:29, SV 21 - NM 16
2:19 SV - Tim Hogue 48 yd run (Scott Stanford kick), 1-48 0:08, SV 28 - NM 16
13:49 NM - Cody Scepaniak 9 yd run (Rockne Belmonte kick), 9-75 3:30, SV 28 - NM 23
11:00 NM - Rockne Belmonte 46 yd field goal, 6-19 2:47, SV 28 - NM 26
5:03 NM - Jace Daniels 0 yd fumble recovery (Rockne Belmonte kick), 1-29 0:30, SV 28 - NM 33
PASSING YDS (NET)208112
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS63-43771-331
Third-Down Conversions6 of 135 of 18
Fourth-Down Conversions0 of 11 of 1
Sacks By: Number-Yards2-80-0
RUSHING: Saginaw Valley State-Tim Hogue 26-206; J. Jennings 7-23. Northern Michigan-Casey Cotta 17-109; Cody Scepaniak 20-98; Prince Young 9-21; C. Jessie 1-1; TEAM 1-minus 10; Jace Daniels 0-0.
PASSING: Saginaw Valley State-J. Jennings 17-30-1-208. Northern
Michigan-Cody Scepaniak 11-23-2-112.
RECEIVING: Saginaw Valley State-Jeff Janis 11-181; Tim Hogue 2-12; Deon Jobe 2-3; Nathan Hoyle 1-9; Mark Thrash 1-3. Northern Michigan-C. Jessie 5-75; Kelvin Smarwt 3-15; Sterlin Darling 1-11; Joe Vezina 1-8; Casey Cotta 1-3.
INTERCEPTIONS: Saginaw Valley State-Jeff Heath 2-0. Northern Michigan-Brandon Parson 1-0.
FUMBLES: Saginaw Valley State-Team 1-1; Travon Hamilton 1-1; David Toussaint 1-1; Mark Thrash 1-1. Northern Michigan-Cody Scepaniak 2-0.
"It doesn't feel like we started off 1-5, I'll tell you that much," Belmonte said. "It's absolutely amazing. The young guys really grew a lot real fast. We put a lot of weight on them."
Belmonte, whose older brother attended SVSU, missed his first kick of the day from 51 yards, then nailed his next four from 36, 55, 49 and 46 yards to break the NMU record for field goals made in a career, which now stands at 42.
Kyle Marotz was the previous record holder having hit 41 from 2002-05.
"I said I'd much rather have the win than the record. I was lucky enough to get both," Belmonte said. "I get to call (my brother) and brag about both things. Both are going to be very exciting."
All four special teams recoveries - the three SVSU fumbles on punts and the onside kick - led to points for the Wildcats.
Belmonte bounced a punt off the top of an SVSU player's head in the second quarter that NMU recovered, leading to a 36-yard field goal to make it 10-7 Northern.
Belmonte - who holds the NMU record for longest field goal at 58 yards - bounced a 55-yard attempt off the crossbar and through the uprights as time expired to cut the Cardinals' lead to 21-13 at halftime.
A failed diving attempt by an SVSU player to field a Belmonte punt in the third quarter set up the NMU senior kicker's record-tying field goal from 49 yards.
The onside kick that was recovered by the 'Cats early in the fourth quarter led to the record-breaking 46-yard FG by Belmonte
"I just hung the ball high and (SVSU) couldn't seem to catch it," Belmonte said. "I've never really tried to punt the ball very far. I just try to put as much hang time on there as possible.
"We knew (the Cardinals) had shaky guys. They substituted guys in and out of there."
SVSU's third botched attempt at fielding a Belmonte punt led to a TD as unconventional as the NMU' win.
On the first play from scrimmage following the muff, NMU junior quarterback Cody Scepaniak - the once senior recently gained a year of eligibility back according to an NCAA ruling - ran 28 yards to the SVSU 1-yard line before coughing up the ball.
Fortunately for Scepaniak, who had been intercepted twice already in the second half, senior offensive lineman Jace Daniels of Escanaba was there to scoop up the ball and fall into the end zone.
The Cardinals' two attempts at game-winning drives both ended in failure, with NMU junior defensive back Brandon Parson picking off a Jonathan Jennings pass from the NMU five in the end zone and an SVSU turnover on downs at the NMU 19 with 34 seconds left sealing the win.
"This is a huge victory for us," Parson said. "We came out and played hard. The first half we had some deep passes on us that we corrected in the second half. (Coaches) had us press more, so it took the chances of the deep ball out of the equation."
The Wildcats and Cardinals both hit deep balls in the first quarter with Jennings, a junior, hitting junior wide out Jeff Janis for a 57-yard TD pass and Scepaniak connecting with junior receiver Christian Jessie from 41 yards out.
Janis and Jennings got together for a 39-yard TD play in the second quarter as well, while senior running back Tim Hogue ran in a 48-yard TD for SVSU in the third quarter.
Jennings was 6-of-13 for 42 yards in the second half after completing 11-of-17 for 166 yards in the first.
"We were giving up some underneath throws on up that were kind of picking away at us," Ostrowsky said. "We made some changes there and started rolling coverages instead of staying in base coverage."