By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
The problem with playing against yourself is that if one team is doing pretty well, the other usually isn't.
The Montana State University-Northern football team put together one of its best offensive performances in spring history scoring four touchdowns and breaking several big plays.
"Normally, we don't score that many points," said Lights head coach Walt Currie. "We scored more points in this game than we did in all of the springs in the past."
Conversely, the Light defense wasn't nearly as effective being plagued by a plethora of missed tackles and some missed assignments. Still, it wasn't all bad as the Light defense did come up with the first score of the game and showed great improvement for a unit that is short on experience.
Freshman safety Cort Milks opened the scrimmage by picking off a Neil Crandell pass on the fourth play of the game and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown.
The Northern offense looked a little tentative early in the game as penalties bogged down the first three drives.
"Maybe we had more people on the sidelines watching than were used to," Currie said. "We were a little hesitant on offense, but we got it together."
Northern's offense seemed to come to life on a tough 47-yard run by freshman Colt High. However, that drive ended as Crandell was sacked once by Tim Beaty and a pair of incompletions.
After losing the ball on downs, Crandell led the Lights on 13-play, 65-yard scoring drive highlighted by a 22-yard pass to Seth Woodhouse to get the Lights in the redzone.
Freshman running back Tanner Cochrell culminated the drive scoring on a sweep from five yards out with help from a nice block from offensive tackle Mike Schnittgen.
On the offense's next possession, the speedy Cochrell took a swing pass on the first play and broke through the Northern defense for an 76-yard gain. Cochrell showed some nice moves, breaking two tackles and making several defenders miss before being dragged down on the 4-yard line. However, a clipping penalty nullified the nice gain.
"We learned about penalties today," Currie said. "They absolutely kill drives and big plays."
Although the play was called back, it was microcosm of the problems of the Light defense on the day. Cochrell was initially hit behind the line of scrimmage, but broke the tackle for positive yardage.
"We need to learn how to tackle," said Lights defensive coordinator Mickey Williams. "We don't know how to come up and finish a hit. We have guys leaving their feet and overpursuing.
"Spring ball can be tough because we don't run everything through as far as tackling in practice. These kids aren't experienced enough to be able to turn the hitting mentality on and off."
Following the penalty, Northern picked up a first down, but the drive ended as Crandell was pummeled by three Light defenders and lost the ball. Beaty recovered the fumble.
Back-up quarterback Nick Arnold came in on the next series and promptly uncorked a wobbly 22-yard pass which freshman Clint Herrera hauled in to set up Northern's third score. Kris Marshall punctuated the drive scoring from five yards out on a sweep.
On the ensuing series, Arnold led the Lights on an 8-yard drive which ended with Cochrell adding his second score of the day.
Crandell returned for the final series of the game and looked sharp, completing a nifty 26-yard pass to Woodhouse and hooking up with Marshall on a seam pattern for a 42-yard touchdown.
"You are always happy to have guy makes some big plays," Currie said. "The offense really played well late in the game. The has made some tremendous strides this spring, they let down a little at the end of the game. I don't know if they were tired."
Although he wasn't happy with the overall play of his defense, Williams still found some positives.
"I though our secondary played decent for young kids," Williams said. "They're all freshman and they made some plays."
As for the tackling, he was also upbeat.
"That can be corrected in the fall when we are able to get after each other a little more," Williams said. "The primary goal of the spring season is to learn the system and we did that."
While Currie was pleased about his team's performance, he was already thinking about fall practice starting on Aug. 17. He admitted there is still a long way to go before his team opens the season against Dickinson State on Sept. 6 in Havre.
"It has me excited for next fall," Currie said. "But we still have a lot more work to do before that first game."