UNIVERSITY CENTER - Returning home for the first time in three weeks and hosting a game that everybody always has circled on the calendar, the Saginaw Valley State University football team claimed a huge 16-14 victory over the Northwood University Timberwolves in the 40th Annual Axe Bowl on Saturday night (10/25).
The Cardinals keep the handle of the "Axe" painted red, as SVSU has claimed the past four meetings between the two teams. With the victory, the Cards improve to 2-6 overall on the season and 2-5 in the GLIAC while Northwood falls to 4-4 overall and 3-4 in league play.
SVSU made great use of the game's opening drive. The Cardinals put together a nice 14-play, 79 yard drive that used 8:15 off the clock and resulted in a Scott Stanford 18 yard field goal to put the home team up 3-0.
After forcing a NU punt with punter's heels on the goal line, Saginaw Valley took over with great field position at the Northwood 39. On a third and eight, quarterback Tyler Palka dropped back and felt a heavy rush, stepped up in the pocket and scampered 37 yards for his first-career touchdown. A Stanford PAT made the lead 10-0 with 3:17 left in the first quarter.
The T-Wolves responded on their next drive and scored on a short pass play and cut the lead to 10-7.
Both teams traded punts and on Northwood's next drive, safety Caleb Higbie came up with a big interception at the goal line to get the ball back for SV.
The Cards then worked an eight-play, 70 yard drive and attempted a 27 yard field goal. Northwood's Ayrn Curtis was able to get around the edge and block the kick, however, giving the ball back to NU with the Cardinal lead still at three (10-7).
SVSU would force another punt and take control with 2:26 left in the half. Four plays and 42 yards later, Stanford was set up for another field goal attempt, this time from 37 yards out. He would split the uprights for the Cards, increasing the lead to 13-7 and leaving just five ticks remaining to play in the first half.
The Timberwolves took their first lead of the game on the opening drive of the second half, scoring on a touchdown run and grabbing a 14-13 advantage after the PAT.
After an SVSU turnover, Northwood had the ball at the SV 33 facing a fourth and two. After a botched pitch, NU coughed-up the recovered ball on a rush and the Cardinals' Ben Jean hopped on the loose ball and gave the home team possession at their own 37.
That would lead into another long drive for SV, as the offense marched down the field on 10 plays, gaining 57 yards and eating up 5:15 worth of clock.
The Cardinals would have fourth and goal from the NU six, which would set the stage for another Stanford field goal attempt.
Set up with a 24 yard try, Stanford made good on another field goal, giving SVSU the lead back at 16-14 with 9:34 left in the game.
The teams would trade punts as both defenses stayed solid from that point on. After a failed fourth and seven attempt for Northwood on their final drive, SVSU took over at the NU 15 with just 1:37 left to play.
The Timberwolves had just one timeout remaining and could not stop the clock, which sealed the victory for SVSU after a rush and a kneel out of the victory formation.
Saginaw Valley posted the edge in total offense on the night, posting 339 yards compared to Northwood's 272. It was a balanced attack for SVSU, as the Cards had 190 yards through the air and 149 rushing. SV also posted a commanding advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for 34:41 compared to Northwood's 25:19.
Palka had 182 yards passing, going 13-of-17 with a touchdown. The redshirt freshman earned his first-ever win under center. He added 79 yards with a TD rushing on 18 attempts and was named the Meijer "Player of the Game."
Seven of those 13 completions went to wideout Bryan Fobbs, who finished with 88 yards through the air.
Stanford had the three field goals and had a pair of touchbacks on kickoffs.
Saginaw Valley hits the road again for a two game stretch, beginning with a game at Hillsdale College on Saturday (11/1). Kickoff is set for 1:00 pm at Hillsdale's Frank "Muddy" Waters Stadium.