By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
When you only have one win on the season, you are in no position to overlook any team. Even if your opponent only has one win on the season and it was the one team you've beaten.
The Montana State University-Northern football team certainly won't be looking past Montana Tech when the two teams hook up Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium. Instead, they will take dead aim at the Diggers to try and complete a sweep over Tech on the season.
"We're not overlooking anyone," said Lights head coach Walt Currie. "It's not like we have won a ton of games this season. Nobody rolls over for us, they get up for us."
Indeed, Northern's only win this season came on Sept. 27 over Tech in Butte. The Lights held off a furious fourth quarter rally to hang on for a 29-22 win. For the second-straight year, Northern defeated Tech in the first meeting of the season.
"They're going to be fired up coming into this game," Currie said. "They've been a premiere program in this league for many years and they certainly don't like an upstart beating them even once in a season. Tech isn't going to hold anything back."
Despite the Diggers a 1-6 record on the season and barrage of injuries to starters, no team coached by Bob Green is ever going to give up on a game or a season. The Diggers haven't rolled with the punches this season, they've taken the hit, gotten knocked down and gotten back up again.
It first started with all-conference defensive end Jay Deal breaking his ankle two games into the season. Two games later, starting quarterback Aaron Johnson didn't just break his arm, he shattered it, putting him out for the season. With two of its top performers out and all-conference running back Adam Cotton seeing limited action because of a myriad of injuries, Tech failed to get a win in its first five games of the season.
The loss of Johnson was probably the biggest loss, since Green's backup Jake Hill had never played a down in a college game and his third string quarterback, former Havre High standout and true freshman Justin Kegel was slated to redshirt.
Hill replaced Johnson in the game following the injury and Kegel was brought out of his red shirt and attempted to learn the entire Tech offense in about a week.
Two weeks ago, Kegel was named the starter for the Oct. 4 matchup with Rocky Mountain College. He played a solid game before leaving with some badly bruised ribs. Hill replaced him and led Tech to a 32-34 win for its first win of the season.
Kegel, who is the first true freshman to start for Green in his 17 years at Tech, will get the nod again on Saturday in his return home. With Kegel at the helm, Lights defensive coordinator Mickey Williams said the Diggers' conservative offensive attack, will be even more conservative to allow Kegel to avoid big mistakes.
"They are going to run the football even more," Williams said. "They'll line up with two tight ends and pound it right at us with Cotton."
The game plan for playing Tech, even before Johnson got hurt, is to make the Diggers throw the ball more than run it. Traditionally, Tech likes to run the football to set up its passing game. Green isn't above having his team throw, but he doesn't want it to be an every down situation.
"We need to shut down their running attack and force them into their passing game," Williams said. "We need to stop giving up big third downs and get more three and outs. They're not trying to pass for big yards. They're throwing a lot of short passes and screen passes."
In the win over Tech earlier in the season, Northern did exactly that, limiting the Diggers to just 73 yards rushing.
"We came with a lot of pressure and played the gaps and showed them a lot of different looks," Williams said. "We'll try and do that again with even more looks."
Another reason for Tech's minimal rushing production was that they were forced to play from behind for much of the game.
Northern led for the entire game, including a 21-point lead going into the fourth quarter, which forced Tech to throw almost every down. It's a situation that Currie would like to have happen again.
"We'd like to get ahead early," Currie said. "The biggest thing is we need to play two halves of football. Against Tech and Rocky last week, we didn't start playing until the second half. We need to come out and play well right from the start."
In last week's loss against Rocky, Northern fought its way back into the game behind the play of quarterback Neill Crandell.
"The key to the second half of the Rocky game was that Neill took more of the game on his shoulders," Currie said. "He made things happen."
Crandell will be counted on to make things happen against Tech. In the first game, he threw for 189 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 55 yards and another score.
"We threw the ball fairly well the first time," Currie said. "We'll add some new wrinkles to what we normally do, we won't be a mirror image, but we'll still run some of the stuff that worked."
Tech will combat the Northern offense with a lot of different blitzes from a variety of different positions.
"He'll send a lot of different people," Currie said. "And challenge us to throw the football. It's real important that Neill and our receivers are on the same page and our linemen communicate on the blitzes."
One thing that Northern must do is value each and every possession because there won't be many in the game. With Tech wanting to run and Northern also wanting to control the clock, every possession will be critical and special teams will also take on an added significance.
"We had some special teams breakdowns against them," Currie said. "We had a punt blocked and an extra point blocked. (Green) always has something up his sleeve for special teams and he'll throw out some deception."
If everything works out to Currie's liking there will be one major obstacle facing his team.
"Sometimes we get in a mindset where we get complacent when we have a lead," Currie said. "No lead is safe, and it's hard to stop momentum once its changed hands and even harder to get it back once you've lost it."
Northern and Tech will kick off at 4 p.m. and the game can be heard on 92.5 KPQX-FM.