By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
There is no way to sugarcoat it or spin it. The Montana State University-Northern football team is just not very good in games away from Blue Pony Stadium this season.
The Lights have lost all four of their road games this season by a combined score of 154-20, while committing 28 penalties for a total of 200 yards and turning the ball over a whopping 17 times.
"We are just not a very good team on the road," said head coach Mark Samson. "We come out flatter than a pancake in every game. We just aren't doing the things we need to do to have success on the road.
Unfortunately, Samson and his team will be back on the road again this weekend, traveling to Helena to face the suddenly reeling Carroll College Saints Saturday at 1 p.m. at Nelson Stadium. Carroll crushed Northern in Havre 61-3 on Sept. 11.
The Lights and the now 15th-ranked Saints come into the game in similar situations - in the midst of losing streaks.
Northern has yet to win a game this season and is coming off a disappointing 35-8 road loss at Eastern Oregon.
The situation isn't quite as dire in Carroll, but frustrating all the same. The Saints have lost back-to-back games for the first time in over three years.
Carroll had its 24-game winning streak halted in a 17-14 loss to Montana Tech two weeks ago, and then last week fell to UM-Western 26-17.
"Carroll always has trouble playing at Tech because its such a rivalry," Samson said. "And Western has such a good defensive front that they only rushed four guys and pretty much controlled the line of scrimmage."
Another thing teams have started to do is frustrate the normally unflappable Tyler Emmert, who has thrown an uncharacteristic four interceptions in the past two games. Emmert's frustrations may be because teams have been double-teaming his favorite target Kevin McCutcheon.
"It seems at times like Tyler gets locked in on either McCutcheon or Justin Wigen and doesn't throw to anyone else," Samson said. "But really, I can't sit here and say that Carroll has problems when we haven't won a game yet."
Even with the recent problems, Carroll is still one of the premiere teams in the conference The statistics don't lie. Carroll is first in the conference in total offense at 410 yards per game, while averaging 26.6 points per contest. The Saints' defense also ranks first in scoring defense at 11.3 points per game and yards per game at 266.9.
Going into the unfriendly confines of Nelson Stadium against a wounded Saint squad isn't exactly a recipe for Northern's first win of the season.
Still, for Samson and several players it will be a homecoming of sorts. Several key players for the Lights are from Helena and will be playing in front of family and friends
"We have a lot of Helena kids going home and the last thing they want to do is be embarrassed in front of their family and friends," Samson said.
While Samson won't make any guarantees, he does believe that his team won't lose to Carroll like it did last time.
"Our defense has really made some great strides," he said. "It's not like teams have been totally dominating lately. We went toe-to-toe with Western and Southern Oregon. We've just been giving teams too many opportunities on the road. You can't have 15 fumbles and expect to win. Fumbles have been absolutely killing us."
Northern has still been able to move the ball with some efficiency this season, averaging 274 yards of total offense, including 150 yards rushing.
However, the Lights third-down conversion rate is hovering around 20 percent, which is not good. Too many penalties have put Northern in third and long situations that render it difficult to convert.
"The penalties have been dumb penalties," Samson said. "We're talking about false starts and offsides. Those are penalties you commit early in the season not seven games in."
Still, Samson is positive about his team and its effort.
"It's not that we're not playing hard," Samson said "The kids have been really working hard in practice and the effort is there. We just aren't executing, especially on the road. We need to find a way to not come out flat, take care of the ball and not dig ourselves into a hole."
Northern and Carroll will kick off at 1 p.m. and can be heard locally on 92.5 KPQX-FM.