By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
The Montana State University-Northern football team has simply run out of chances.
One final opportunity remains tonight for the Lights to get that elusive first win of the season as they host the Rocky Mountain College Battlin' Bears at 5 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium.
Never in his worst nightmares did Northern head coach Mark Samson think he would be staring the possibility of finishing the season winless going into his last game.
"Honestly, I've never been in this situation going into the last game of the season," he said. "But I really don't have any complaints. The kids are still working hard. They really want to get that first win."
Still, even with Rocky 1-10 on the season and decimated by injuries, there is no guarantee that the Lights are assured of a win.
"I know the kids have really looked at this game as an opportunity to get a win," Samson said. "But Rocky isn't going to simply give it to us. They are going to be very motivated because they don't want to lose it to us. They made a big deal about being picked to finish last in the conference and proving people wrong."
A win over Northern (0-10 overall, 0-9 in conference) would guarantee the Bears wouldn't finish in the cellar. They already own a 24-12 win over the Lights on Oct. 2 in Billings.
However, the win was far from dominant. Rocky hit on about three or four big plays and Northern committed some costly turnovers in the loss. The Lights actually outgained Rocky in total yards.
"Two of their three touchdowns came on big plays and the other came after we gave them a short field after failing to convert on fourth down," Samson said. "Other than those instances, they really didn't do anything substantial against us."
Indeed, Rocky is last in just about every single offensive team category in the Frontier Conference. The Bears are last in scoring average (7.9 points per game), total offense (209.3 yards per game), rushing (103.9 yards per game), passing offense (105.4 yards per game) and passing efficiency (70.3). In their last four games, the Bears have scored a total of seven points and committed over 15 turnovers including nine against Eastern Oregon.
"They haven't done a whole lot offensively in their last few games," Samson said. "They really have been beaten up by injuries."
The Bears will be without fullback and leading rusher Clint Franklin and have been reduced to having just one healthy running back, Justin Venn, in the backfield. Rocky also has been hurt on the offensive line and was forced to move a tight end to fill in at tackle.
Still, Rocky does have a few weapons. True freshman quarterback Vance Vincent has shown signs of potential, while senior wide receiver Jon Owen of Geraldine is solid.
Defense has been Rocky's strength for most of the season. The Bears rank third in team defense, allowing 370 yards and 30 points per game. That average has risen steadily in the past four games.
Still, Rocky has six seniors on its defense, giving the Bears a little more experience
Senior safety Eric Reis leads the conference in tackles with 120, including 51 solo tackles. Fellow senior Justin Helvik has 83 tackles on the season, while Jesse Daniels has five sacks on the season.
Reis and junior cornerback Chris Colvin, a former Grizzly corner, have three interceptions each on the season.
"Reis is a very good player and Colvin is tough," Samson said. "They make plays for them."
But things have been rough lately, as the Rocky defense has given up 147 points in the last four games.
"I honestly think we are playing a little better than they have been lately," Samson said.
To be fair, the Lights have played pretty well in recent weeks, showing long stretches of solid play. They just haven't put together four good quarters of football
"We need to be more consistent than we've been," Samson said "We did some things in the option game and had some success running the ball against them in the first game."
What hurt Northern was Rocky's myriad of blitz and stunt packages that never allowed the Lights' offense to get into a rhythm.
"They stunted the hell out of us," Samson said. "They brought a blitz or twist on almost every play. The last time we had trouble picking them up. But if we can pick them up, it leaves us with some mismatches in the secondary"
Northern desperately needs some big plays to compliment quarterback Kyle Samson and running back Don Saisbury. Receivers Nick Arnold, Dan Wirtzberger, Clint Herrera and Todd Nelson have played well of late, and need to against Rocky.
"We have to find a way to break a few big plays," Samson said. "It would really open things up for us."
Samson is looking for anything to get his team to change its run of luck. He hopes the evening game will provide a change for the positive. Northern was originally scheduled to play on Saturday but moved the game up because of the Havre High-Libby Class A semifinal football game.
"The kids are excited about playing a night game," he said. "A lot of them played on Friday nights in high school. Maybe the change will be good."
But Samson knows it will take more than playing under the lights, to help the Lights.
"It's a good opportunity for us," he said. "I really believe the kids are excited to play. They still want to win. This will be our last chance this season and I think they understand that and are going to come ready to play."
Northern and Rocky will kick off at 5 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard locally on 92.5 KPQX-FM. A web cast can also be heard on www.msun.edu/athletics.