By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
When you are in the midst of a losing streak, every break and every call seems to go against you, even when you are playing at home.
At least it felt that way for the Montana State University-Northern football team on Saturday in a 10-7 loss to the Southern Oregon Raiders at Blue Pony Stadium.
Raider quarterback Brandon Griffith found reserve running back Jacobe Krizman open for a 21-yard scoring pass with 10:39 remaining in the game.
"It was just supposed to be a flat route," said Southern Oregon head coach Jeff Olson. "They had it covered so (Krizman) ran a wheel route and the safety stayed on the other receiver and he was open. That's a nice adjustment for a redshirt freshman."
Northern tried desperately to rally in the fourth quarter, but struggled against a tough SOU defense. The Lights looked to have a prime opportunity when safety Nate Walters intercepted a Griffith pass with just under five minutes left in the game. However, a questionable pass interference call nullified the turnover. Southern Oregon retained possession of the ball and drained precious minutes off the clock.
Northern did get the ball one more time in the fourth quarter with only 1:30 remaining. However, all four of quarterback Kyle Samson's passes were incomplete.
Lights head coach Mark Samson couldn't officially comment on the call or the officiating, but was less than pleased after the game. But it paled in comparison to his displeasure at his team's inability to capitalize in the red zone.
"How many times do we have to put the ball on the 5-yard line and not score," Samson said with exasperation. "Twice we have just one yard to go and we couldn't get one dang yard. What does that say about our offense?"
To be correct, Northern needed less than a yard. After SOU went up 3-0 on a Ryan Baker 27-yard field goal in the second quarter, the Lights seemed primed to take the lead early in the third quarter. Northern marched the length of the field, getting first and goal on a Cody Nickel 11-yard run. A pair of Don Saisbury runs put Northern on the one-yard line. Nickel carried the ball on third down and goal from the one, but came up just short. Referees spotted the ball just inches from the goal line, and Samson's sneak attempt came up short again.
"Fourth and goal from the 1-inch line and we don't get in," Samson said. "That's inexcusable."
Northern (0-5) also had three more drives stall inside the red zone. In the second quarter, a 24-yard scramble, coupled with a face mask, put the Lights on SOU's 17-yard line. The drive stalled shortly after at the 10-yard line. On fourth down, kicker Chris Nagel's 27-yard field goal attempt was wide right by inches.
Down 3-0, Northern got a big play late in the third quarter. Freshman Josh Glahn blocked a Baker punt attempt that gave the Lights possession on the Southern Oregon 38-yard line. Samson led the Lights all they way to the 18-yard line, before the drive stalled, forcing Nagel to try a field goal from 35 yards out. The attempt was bad from the start. The snap bounced to holder Neill Crandell and messed with the timing of the play.
Northern finally got on the scoreboard with 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Samson cut back on an option play and broke free on a 49-yard touchdown scamper. Nagel made the extra point to give the Lights a 7-3 lead.
After keeping Southern Oregon out of the end zone for most of the game, the Northern defense finally broke in the fourth quarter. The game-winning drive appeared to be stopped as SOU faced third down and 18, following a big sack by safety Marc Samson.
Griffith found tight end Jason Laban on a 17-yard pass that set up a fourth-and-one situation. Running back Curt Stout converted the fourth down, plunging through the line for 1 yard to keep the drive alive.
Griffith, who sat out the first half because of disciplinary reasons, completed seven of 11 passes for 99 yards. Backup quarterback Boomer Marshall was 19-38 for 210 yards in the first half. Southern Oregon racked up 371 yard of total offense and 19 first downs.
"Third down conversions killed us. Every time when they needed 12 the got 14, when they need eight, they got nine," Mark Samson said. "Their offense started wearing us down in the second half. Our defense was on the field way too much in the second half, because we couldn't get anything going offensively."
Indeed, the vaunted Raider defense was as advertised, holding Northern to 241 yards of total offense and 12 first downs. With the exception of Samson's scoring run, the Lights next longest play from scrimmage was 13 yards.
Kyle Samson led Northern with 91 yards rushing and 93 yards passing. Clint Herrera and Nick Arnold had four catches each. Defensively, Marc Samson had a solid game, registering 12 tackles, including eight solos. Joe Tusick also had a dozen tackles, while Walters and Dilan Saisbury had 11 each.
"That's a good defense," Mark Samson said. "They're pretty talented. They're physical and they're fast. They really fly around to the football. They're a senior-laden defensive team and our offensive is so young. We just don't have enough playmakers right now that can stretch a defense or break a big play."
After losing 51-10 to NCAA Division I-AA San Diego last week, Olson will gladly take the win.
"We're just happy to play NAIA football," Olson said. "We didn't get into the Frontier Conference like we hoped, so we have to schedule some tough games. We're just trying to do the best we can against some tough teams."
Olson counted Northern as one of those tough teams.
"Their record is certainly not indicative of what kind of team that is," Olson said. "They are so much improve. They played hard the whole game and didn't quit. They didn't bow down to us whatsoever."
Olson's assessment still doesn't put the Lights any closer to getting that first win of the season. And Samson admitted that things do not get easier with each passing week.
"We're running out of time to win games," Samson said. "Honestly, this is a game we should have won. We had some breaks that went against us, but we didn't take advantage of the opportunities that we had."
Northern will return to action on Saturday when it makes the long trip west to face Eastern Oregon in La Grande, Ore.
Southern Oregon 0 3 0 7 - 10
MSU-Northern 0 0 7 0 - 7
SOU - 27-yard FG Ryan Baker 2:43
MSU-N - Kyle Samson 49-yard run (Chris Nagel kick) :44
SOU - Jacob Krizman 21 yard pass from Brandon Griffith (Baker kick) 10:39
First downs 19 12
Rushing 34-62 35-148
Passing 26-49-1 11-19-1
Passing yards 309 93
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-1
Time of Possession 25:09 22:00
Penalties 12-145 8-88
Rushing - SOU: Josh Kerley 13-46, Jacobe Krizman 14-39, Brandon Griffith 1 (-7); MSU-N: Kyle Samson 19-91, Don Saisbury 11-42, Cody Nickel 5-15.
Passing - SOU: Boomer Marshall 19-38-0-210; Brandon Griffith 7-11-0-99; MSU-N: Samson 11-19-1-93
Receiving - SOU: Mike Olson 8-84, Bobby Poeltel 6-106, Jason Laban 4-43, Carl Dice 4-38; MSU-N: Clint Herrera 4-40, Nick Arnold 4-35, Don Saisbury 2-14, Cody Nickel 1-4.