By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
With a three-touchdown lead, the easy thing for Montana State University-Northern would have been to run the clock out and take a decisive win - their first win of the season - back to Havre.
But that just wouldn't be the Lights now, would it? Before securing that elusive first win, Northern had to first weather a furious Montana Tech Oredigger comeback to pick up a 29-22 win at Memorial Stadium on the Montana Tech Campus in Butte.
The Lights grabbed a 29-8 lead on the strength of a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs from freshman Tanner Cochrell. With a 21-point lead, Northern was staring down a win. But the Lights blinked just a moment, allowing a struggling Tech offense to come to life.
With 7:54 remaining in the game, redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Hill connected with Conor Hogan for a 67-yard touchdown pass to cut into the Northern lead. Dan Kleckner's extra point trimmed the lead to 29-15.
The resurgence of the Tech offense gave its defense a little lift and it stopped Northern on its ensuing possession.
The Diggers wasted little time upon receiving the ball. Hill found Hogan and Kris Anderson for key catches as the drive culminated in Kevin Dighans' 4-yard touchdown plunge with 3:35 left to play. With Kleckner's point after attempt, the fluffy three-touchdown cushion was getting smaller by the second.
Once again the Tech defense managed to stall the Lights' efforts to run the clock out. Tech got the ball back with less than a minute to play. Another pass from Hill to Hogan got the ball to the Northern 25-yard line. But Northern's defense was able to come up with a sack on fourth down, giving them the ball back with 40 seconds remaining in the game.
A pair of Neill Crandell kneels gave the Lights their first win of the season.
"I would have liked to won by three touchdowns just to see what it's like," joked head coach Walt Currie. "I don't need these kind of cardiac arrests. It's making me old fast."
The win was very satisfying for Currie because his youthful team also appears to be getting older fast.
"The kids were excited," Currie said. "They've stayed very positive and believed if they kept working hard, good things would happen."
The good things happened because the Lights eliminated several of the bad things that have plagued them in a 0-3 start on the season.
Northern committed just one turnover in the game and was able to win the field position battle as well.
"We only had the one turnover," Currie said. "And because of that we never put our defense in bad field position."
Instead, the Lights capitalized on Tech turnovers and their own good field position.
But not at first. Twice Northern had the ball deep into Tech territory and came away scoreless as Chris Nagel missed a pair of field goals of more than 40 yards.
In the second quarter, Tech tried a fake punt, which the Lights stopped, giving them the ball on the Oredigger 35-yard line.
A long pass from Crandell to Clint Herrera set up a Crandell 4-yard touchdown plunge. However, Nagel's extra point was blocked.
Tech capitalized on a Northern punt to get its first points as Kent Kahl blocked a Northern punt and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety.
Northern opened the second half with a score on its first possession. Crandell found Nick Arnold for a 9-yard touchdown pass to give Northern a 13-2 lead. Tech answered with Dighans' first touchdown run from 2 yards out.
"Defensively, we set the tone early in the game," Currie said. "That really helped us in terms of confidence for later in the game."
The Lights picked up 328 yards of total offense from a balanced attack, featuring 139 yards rushing and 189 yards passing. Crandell shook off a gimpy ankle to complete 20 of 34 passes. He spread out those 20 completions to six receivers. Kris Marshall had a game-high nine catches for 75 yards while Herrera grabbed four balls for 71 yards. For the second week in a row, Cochrell led the Lights in rushing with 76 yards on 28 carries. Crandell also picked up 55 yards on the ground.
"We did a good job of spreading things around," Currie said. "We didn't want to give them one guy to key on."
Hill finished 16 of 25 for 265 yards. Former Havre High standout Justin Kegel played in several series, finishing 4-15 for 34 yards. The normally potent ground attack was held to just 79 yards rushing.
For the first time in head coach Bob Green's 17-year tenure, Tech is starting the season 0-4. The Orediggers will face nonconference opponent Eastern Oregon, while Northern will face top-ranked and defending national champion Carroll College on Saturday as part of an Omega TV doubleheader.
"This is a big win for us," Currie said. "The next two weeks, we face two of the best teams in the NAIA, so it's nice going into that stretch with a win."
MSU-Northern 0 6 7 16 - 29
Montana Tech 0 2 6 14 - 22
MSU-N - Neill Crandell 4 run (kick blocked), 12:53
MT - Safety, Kent Kahl blocked punt out of end zone, 6:09
MSU-N - Nick Arnold 9 pass from Crandell (Chris Nagel kick), 10:44
MT - Kevin Dighans 2 run (pass failed), 7:49
MSU-N - Tanner Cochrell 1 run (Crandell run), 13:03
MSU-N - Cochrell 1 run (Arnold from Crandell)
MT - Conor Hogan 67 pass from Jake Hill (Dan Kleckner kick), 7:54
MT - Dighans 4 run (Kleckner kick), 3:53
First downs 16 19
Rushing-yards 41-139 33-79
Passing 20-34-1 21-46-1
Passing yards 189 321
Fumbles-lost 1-0 6-2
Penalties-yards 6-41 5-26
RUSHING - Northern, Tanner Cochrell 28-76, Neill Crandell 7-55, Tanner Woodward 1-(-1), Colt High 1-5, Kris Marshall 1-4. Tech, Adam Cotton 8-66, Josh Johnson 9-36, Justin Kegel 5-16, Kevin Dighans 4-9, Todd Schlaebitz 1-6, Jake Hill 6-(-49).
PASSING - Northern, Crandell 20-34-1-189. Tech, Hill 16-29-1-265, Kegel 4-15-0-34, Schlaebitz 1-2-0-22.
RECEIVING - Northern, Marshall 9-75, Clint Herrera 4-71, Nick Arnold 3-25, Cochrell 2-7, Woodward 1-8, High 1-3. Tech, Conor Hogan 2-122, Kris Anderson 4-72, Johnson 3-19, Dighans 2-23, Kyle Kastelitz 2-7, Tyler Muzzana 1-22, Craig Tippett 1-15, Ryan Dunn 1-14, Chris Carter 1-10, Patrick Watson 1-10, Brian Styck 1-7.