By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Losses. The Montana State University-Northern football team has experienced its fair share of them this season. Some were tough, some were close, but none of them compares to the 61-0 loss to Montana Tech on Sept. 18 in Butte.
The Lights will get the chance to try to erase the lingering memories of that loss when they host the Orediggers on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium as part of Northern's homecoming festivities.
"We were terrible," said Lights head coach Mark Samson. "Everything that could have gone wrong, did. It was bad."
How bad? Northern committed six turnovers - five fumbles and an interception. Four fumbles led directly to Tech scores, while the other two turnovers killed the Lights' scoring opportunities.
"Tech is a very good team, but we just handed them scoring opportunities and field position," Samson said.
Besides the turnovers, Northern amassed just 190 yards of total offense, including 36 yards passing. The Lights also committed eight penalties in the game, some of which ended drives and nullified third-down conversions.
Still, on Saturday two things will be different from that first game against Tech.
First, Northern will be playing in the friendly confines of Blue Pony Stadium. Although the Lights haven't won a game at home, they do play considerably better.
Northern came agonizingly close to getting that first win of the season in losses to UM-Western and Southern Oregon. The Lights have committed just six turnovers at home, compared with 18 on the road. Northern also averages close to 100 yards more in total offense.
"We have been better at home," Samson said. "I don't know if it's the travel, but we seem to execute better at home."
The Lights will need solid execution against a Tech team that has fought and scrapped its way to the top of the Frontier Conference standings and a No. 13 ranking in NAIA.
Since losing to UM-Western 34-14 on Oct. 2 in Dillon, Tech ripped off three consecutive wins, including snapping Carroll College's 24-game unbeaten streak and avenging the earlier loss to Western to take control of the conference race.
Tech isn't flashy like Western or explosive like Carroll. The Diggers just seem to find ways to win. They aren't using smoke and mirrors, just old-fashioned, grind-it-out, mistake-free football.
"They just aren't beating themselves and they're getting a few breaks," Samson said.
Offensively, Tech is somewhat vanilla compared to the variety offered in the Frontier. The Diggers are going to run the football first and foremost.
"Tech likes to get and run the ball down your throat," Samson said. "They'll mix in some bootlegs and play action for passing. They aren't real fancy, but what they run, they run well."
Running back Josh Johnson has rushed for 517 yards and six touchdowns on the season and is an elusive back. Tech quarterback Aaron Johnson is steady, averaging 172 yards passing per game. Johnson has thrown six interceptions on the season and only four touchdowns. His favorite target is Kris Anderson, who has 37 catches for 486 yards and two touchdowns.
While the Diggers' offense isn't going to make an ESPN highlight reel, its defense is even less flashy. Tech's defense plays solid, physical, fundamental football. They'll knock you down, pick you back up, only to knock you down again.
"Their defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage against Western," Samson said. "Basically what they did against Western is shut down the run, gave up the short passes and never let Western get any big plays."
Really, what Samson wants to see more than anything is a cleaner game from his team.
Turnovers, drive-killing penalties and mental mistakes must be cleaned up on Saturday.
"It's hard to gauge from the last time we played, because everything fell apart early on," Samson said. "We were forced to play from behind right away. We need to come out strong right from the beginning."
Northern and Tech will kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday, with radio coverage provided by 92.5 KPQX-FM.