By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
People try could come up with plenty of motivating factors for the Montana State University-Northern football team as they prepare to take on Rocky Mountain College on Saturday as part of Northern's homecoming festivities.
Words like revenge, retribution or any other words normally reserved for Western movies could all be tossed around the Lights locker room. After getting pasted 57-3 by Rocky in Billings on Sept. 13, the idea of reciprocity seems valid for head coach Walt Currie and his squad.
But the Lights have something more to prove to themselves, to Rocky and to the people, who watched the first game. They want to prove that they're a better team than that.
"We were bad," Currie said bluntly. "It's the worst game we played all year. It may have looked worse against Southern Oregon, but Rocky was worse."
It's difficult to believe that there is something worse than the 61-0 shelling the Lights took against Southern Oregon last weekend, but according to Currie it was.
"We didn't play even close to what we're capable of against Rocky," Currie said. "We turned the ball over in silly ways, didn't move the ball and got sand kicked in our face at the end."
Obviously, Northern is a better team now than it was in the second game of the season. The 20 or so freshman that have seen consistent playing time are no longer rookies in Currie's eyes.
"They're not freshmen anymore as far as I'm concerned," Currie said. "They've played in six games now. They know what it's all about and what it takes to be successful. I can't use it as an excuse anymore and neither can they."
The Lights will face a Rocky team that is clearly on a downward spiral following their win over Northern. The Bears have lost four consecutive games, including last week's tough 34-24 loss to Montana Tech. It was Tech's first win of the season.
Despite the recent hard times, Rocky is still a dangerous team that can put up points in bunches.
"They're going to throw the ball a lot, and then they're going to throw it some more," said defensive coordinator Mickey Williams. "They hurt us down there with lots of short throws that ended up in big gains. But I know we're better defensively than we were down there. We played absolutely terrible. Now we're a little healthier with some kids returning from injury."
Williams did notice a few things different from Rocky in recent game films.
"They seem to be going more vertical with their pass routes and trying to hit on longer plays instead of trying to break short routes into big plays," Williams said. "It might because they haven't scored a ton of points in recent games."
Regardless of routes, Williams will employ the same tactic he used down at Rocky, only amplified.
"We tried bringing from pressure from the outside and didn't work," Williams said. "We're going to bring even more pressure from the outside and bring it from up the middle too. We have so many different blitzes that we've run out of hand calls."
Perhaps the biggest factor for the Northern defense will be its recent run against Carroll College and Southern Oregon, two extremely fast teams.
"Mentally, we should have caught up with how fast the game is played. The first game we kind of looked like everything was happening too fast for us. It should look slower out there."
Said Currie: "After playing against Carroll and Southern Oregon, I don't think any other team will look fast. If they don't know what speed is after the last two weeks, they never will."
Rocky is by no means as fast Carroll, but they aren't a bunch of tortoises in football helmets. Quarterback Adam Sanchez is fleet of foot and hurt Northern with his elusiveness and scrambling. Sanchez also can throw and has a pair of solid playmakers in Jon Owen and B.J. Charlton.
Northern will counter with its usual weapons of quarterback Neill Crandell, running back Tanner Cochrell and the receiving foursome of Tanner Woodward, Nick Arnold, Kris Marshall and Clint Herrera.
"We should be able to move the ball against them," Currie said. "We just have to cut down on our turnovers and we can't let them get a big lead. We want to keep the game close or be leading so we can run the football."
A year ago, Rocky drilled Northern in the first game in Billings, only to escape with a one-point win in the second game in Havre. Currie would like a repeat performance only with a different ending.
"We're definitely capable of beating Rocky," he said. "We have to avoid the usual suspects like turnovers. We want to play well to prove ourselves and Rocky that we're a better team than that first game."
Northern and Rocky will kick off at 4 p.m., which is later than usual due to the homecoming festivities.