By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
It doesn't matter if it's by one or 100, the Montana State University-Northern football team needs a win.
Northern, 0-5 on the season, is in desperate need of a win and the much-needed confidence boost that comes with it. The Lights will get another opportunity when they host the Southern Oregon Raiders on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium.
"We just a need a win of any type," Samson said. "It would mean so much to the kids confidence-wise. We've had our opportunities."
Indeed, Saturday will offer yet another opportunity. The Raiders come into Havre with a 2-3 record and fresh off a 51-10 drubbing by NCAA Division I-AA University of San Diego.
SOU started the season ranked No. 16 in the NAIA, but losses to San Diego, Azusa Pacific and Humboldt State have left the Raiders 2-3 on the season.
The Raiders' two wins have come against Rocky Mountain College (13-7) and Si-Tanka Huron Univeristy (21-7).
Northern is coming off a 24-12 defeat at the hands of Rocky. The game was frustrating for Samson, considering his team outgained Rocky in total offense and dominated the line of scrimmage and time of possession.
"We had some dropped passes and penalties and had one big turnover that hurt us," he said. "For the most part we played pretty well, just some little mistakes."
It's those little mistakes that Northern must erase against a good Southern Oregon team. The Raiders have traditionally been a powerhouse in NAIA, but graduation left heavy losses on the offense.
Gone are All-American Dusty McGrorty, quarterback Dan Woodward, standout receiver Andre Ware and four members of last year's offensive line.
"They've had some trouble scoring points at times this season," Samson said. "They are not quite as experienced or explosive on offense as they have been in the past."
SOU is averaging just 10.6 points and 274 yards of total offense per game this season. The Raiders have rushed for only one touchdown on the season, while throwing for five - four to returning receiver Bobby Poeltl.
Poeltl is Southern's biggest weapon, leading the team with 31 receptions for 406 yards on the season. He is also a dangerous kick returner.
The Raiders are trying to replace McGrorty's 150-yard-plus rushing performances with the duo of Antar Mahasian and Bill Jolin, who combine for about 90 yards a game.
"Obviously, losing McGrorty is big for them," Samson said. "But they are still running basically the same offense."
Defense may be the Raiders' biggest strength. SOU returns the bulk of its starters on the defensive side, led by linebacker David Zauhauer, who leads the team with 46 tackles. Senior Toby Walker leads the team in interceptions, tackles for loss, fumble recoveries and sacks from his rover position.
"They're a tough team to figure out," Samson said. "They played Azusa very tough, but then didn't really look great against Rocky or Huron. I think they are still trying to work some things out offensively."
Northern appears to have worked out much of its offensive kinks, averaging more than 400 yards of total offense in the last two games. But it has been the play of the Lights' defense that has Samson optimistic.
"Our defense has really made some strides," Rocky said. "They played well enough last weekend for us to win the game; our offense didn't keep up its end. The defense is starting to get some sacks, cause some turnovers and start making plays."
This hasn't been the easiest week for Samson, his two sons and the numerous Capital players on the team. The death of Carroll College running back and former Capital standout Narles Yde-Layne has been looming in their minds. Samson and his sons missed Thursday's practice to attend the funeral, rendering the practice somewhat unproductive.
"It definitely puts some things in perspective," Samson said. "It's been a long week. We got behind some, but I think that the kids can afford to miss a practice. We've been going for eight weeks. If they don't have things figured out now, one practice is the least of our problems."
Even with the circumstances, practice was very crisp on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"The kids haven't give up," Samson said. "I really think they've turned the corner. You can see it in practice. These kids aren't afraid to fight for a win. I don't have any problem with the effort they've been giving. We just need a win to reward that effort."
Northern and Southern Oregon will kick off at 1 p.m. The game can be heard locally on 92.5 KPQX-FM or on a webcast at www.msun.edu/athletics.