By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
The Montana State University-Northern football team played perhaps its best half of football this season in the second half of Saturday's game against Rocky Mountain College. Unfortunately, the first half was one of its worst.
Rocky scored 24 first-half points and fended off a scrappy Northern rally to hang on for a 27-20 Frontier Conference win.
After falling behind 24-0 in the first half, Northern scored three second-half touchdowns, but had several possible game-tying drives come up just short in the fourth quarter.
Lights head coach Walt Currie isn't big on moral victories but he found the comeback a positive.
"The one plus from this was that the kids didn't throw in the towel," Currie said. "We showed some pride. That was good to see, but it took us a half to wake up and start playing."
The first half was far from positive for Northern. The Lights' offense was anything but crisp, and their defense couldn't seem to get key stops when they needed them.
"We were awful in the first half," Currie said. "We weren't very crisp and didn't play with any sense of urgency or aggressiveness."
From the opening kickoff, the Lights looked sluggish. Northern hurt itself on Rocky's first drive with three penalties for 30 yards before Rocky quarterback Adam Sanchez plunged across from 2 yards out on a quarterback draw.
On Northern's ensuing possession Rocky's Eric Reis intercepted Neill Crandell's tipped pass that set up a 50-yard Jeremy Duprey field goal.
Northern appeared to be crawling out of its doldrums, putting a solid drive together in the first quarter, but Rocky stuffed the Lights on fourth and one as Tanner Cochrell was wrapped up behind the line of scrimmage on Northern's 37-yard line.
Rocky took over possession and needed just three plays as Sanchez took advantage of a Northern defender falling down to connect with Darrel Lockridge on a 57-yard touchdown pass.
Just when it seemed like things couldn't possibly get any worse for the Lights, they did.
Northern's offense marched to the Rocky 4-yard line but failed to get into the end zone as Cochrell fumbled an option pitch that was recovered by Rocky.
Rocky then pinned Northern on its own 1-yard line. The Lights tried to get out of the bad field position as Crandell tried to hit Tanner Woodward on a short swing pass. Woodward dropped the ball, but the referees ruled that the pass was a lateral and the ball was live. Woodward tried to pick the ball up in the scrum, but was drilled by several Rocky defenders and the ball came loose. Rocky's Jade Small pounced on the ball for a Bear touchdown with just 57 seconds remaining in the first half.
"That was just a bad play from the beginning," Currie said. "We thought we could get some yardage on it."
Halftime was a blessing for Currie and his team as they tried to regroup from an all-but-forgettable first half.
As for what was said to his team by the Northern coaching staff, Currie was coy.
"You probably couldn't put it in print," he said. "Basically, we challenged them, we challenged their pride, and they responded."
Northern opened the second half by putting together a solid drive that stalled at the 19-yard line. The Lights lined up for a field goal, but it was a fake as holder L.D. Matthews scampered 19 yards for the touchdown. Northern's attempt at a 2-point conversion came up short, but the Lights picked up some much needed momentum.
"We work on the fake every week," Currie said. "I called it because I thought we needed a boost emotionally."
Rocky answered on the ensuing possession as Duprey banged home his second field goal of the game, this time from 49 yards out to push the lead to 27-6.
However, those would be the last points Rocky would see in the game. The much-maligned Northern defense shut down the vaunted Bear passing attack.
While the defense was slowing down the Rocky offense, the Northern offense was picking up speed.
The Lights marched 67 yards on six plays as Crandell rolled out and found Kris Marshall open in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.
Northern even caught a break on the point after attempt. A bad snap forced Matthews to roll out and look for a receiver, but his pass was intercepted. However, a Rocky player had lined up offsides, which allowed the Lights another crack at the PAT, which Chris Nagel converted.
The Lights appeared to be heading for another score, capitalizing on a fumble recovery by Mike Tryon and a facemask call on a fake punt to get deep into Rocky territory. However, on fourth down and two from the 13-yard line, Jeff Fischer was stuffed on an option run.
The Lights still managed to get another scoring opportunity and this time cashed it in. Crandell connected with Herrera on a 24-yard pass which set up an 8-yard touchdown pass to Herrera as Northern pulled within seven on Nagel's point after attempt.
But Northern's rally would end there. The Lights recovered two onside kicks but lined up offsides on one and touched the ball before it rolled 10 yards on the other.
The Lights had one last-ditch chance to tie the game, getting possession with 37 seconds left. However, Northern was without timeouts and could not drive the length of the field in the short amount of time.
"It really hurt us burning up our timeouts early in the second half," Currie said. "We used one when Neill got hurt and wasted two on some substitution problems."
Offensively, Northern outgained Rocky in total yardage 451 to 315. Crandell finished with 315 yards passing, completing 29 of 50 attempts. Woodward had six catches for 64 yards while Marshall snagged six balls for 64 yards. Herrera also had a solid game, catching five passes for 75 yards.
"We moved the ball consistently in the second half," Currie said. "Neill shouldered a lot of the blame for the first half and he really stepped it up in the second half."
Northern's defense held Rocky's pass attack to just 165 yards, but did allow the Bears to gain 206 yards on the ground.
Matthews led the defense with 12 tackles while Bomont Somerfeld had 10 tackles, including four tackles for a loss.
With the loss, Northern falls to 1-6 overall and 1-4 in the Frontier Conference. Rocky snapped a five-game losing streak to improve to 2-5 overall and 2-3 in the Frontier.
Northern will host Montana Tech on Saturday at 4 p.m. The game time was pushed back from 1 p.m. due to the Havre High playoff game.
Rocky Mountain 10 14 3 0 - 27
MSU-Northern 0 0 13 7 - 20
RMC - Adam Sanchez 2-yard run (Jeremy Duprey kick) 12:20
RMC - Duprey 50-yard field goal 4:37
RMC - Darrell Lockridge 57-yard pass from Sanchez (kick failed) 12:01
RMC - Jade Small fumble recovery in ends zone (B.J. Charlton pass from Sanchez) :57
MSUN - L.D. Matthews 18-yard run (run failed) 10:15
RMC - Duprey 49-yard field goal 7:24
MSUN - Kris Marshall 15-yard pass from Neill Crandell (Chris Nagel kick) 5:29
MSUN - Clint Herrera 8-yard pass from Crandell (Nagel kick) 2:32
RUSHING - RMC: Sanchez 17-82, Venn 17-65, Albin 1-15, Charlton 1-17, Goyen 1-1. MSUN: Tanner Cochrell 25-68, Neill Crandell 11-43, L.D. Matthews 1-18, Kris Marshall 2-3, Tanner Woodward 1-4.
PASSING - RMC: Sanchez 19-37-165-1. MSUN: Crandell 29-50-322-1