Havre Daily News Sports Editor
The Montana State Univeristy-Northern football team knew exactly what the Montana Tech Orediggers were going to do on Saturday at Alumni Coliseum in Butte. The only problem was the Lights couldn't do anything to stop it.
With both of their quarterbacks out with injuries, the Orediggers relied on a punishing ground attack to grab a 23-18 victory.
With normal receiver Bryan Styck taking over the quarterback duties, Tech kept the ball almost exclusively on the ground and had plenty of success. The Diggers ran over, ran past and ran away from a frustrated Northern defense all afternoon. Tech racked up 342 yards rushing and controlled the ball and the tempo of the game.
"They didn't run that many different plays," said Lights head coach Mark Samson. "We knew exactly what they were going to do, but we couldn't do anything to stop it. And that's very frustrating."
With starting quarterback Aaron Johnson nursing a broken arm and backup Justus Sheets recovering from a partial shoulder separation, Styck was called on take over at quarterback. The last time he took a snap as a QB was during his junior year at Flathead High School.
Although the majority of the time Styck handed the ball off to running backs Teague Egan, Josh Johnson and Corey Warner, he did complete six of seven passes for 86 yards.
Tech, which normally runs the ball quite bit, made its intentions known from the first snap.
"It wasn't anything fancy," Samson said. "They just lined up and wanted to see who was more physical, and they were. They just manhandled us up front. In my life, I would have never believed that they would run for that many yards on us."
Tech got on the scoreboard first with a series of runs that set up a 20-yard touchdown run on a double reverse by Zach Soukup.
Northern answered immediately with 20-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Samson to Nick Arnold. The subsequent point-after-attempt was blocked.
Tech took the lead for good early in the second quarter on a 5-yard burst from Egan. The Diggers made one of their few mistakes of the day as Dan Kleckner's point-after was no good.
The Lights cut the lead down to 13-12 when Samson connected again with Arnold from 4 yards out. Northern went for two, but was unsuccessful.
The Diggers began to pull away in the second half when Kleckner made up for the missed PAT with a school-record 55-yard field goal.
But the drive that crushed Northern's hopes came late in the third quarter as Styck put together a time-eating drive that lasted well into the fourth quarter. In that drive, Styck completed three passes and converted on a key fourth-down play with a 9-yard run. Josh Johnson capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown plunge.
Down 23-11 with time running out in the fourth quarter, Northern needed some help to get back in the game. Styck made his only crucial mistake of the day, fumbling the center exchange which the Lights pounced on. Northern needed just seven plays for Samson to hit Dan Wirtzberger on a 3-yard touchdown pass. However, there were only 41 seconds left in the game.
"We still had a chance to win the game, but that last score was just too late," Samson said.
Northern tried an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but Tech's Adam Cotton recovered it. With no timeouts left, the Lights could only watch as Tech ran the clock out with a pair quarterback kneels.
"We just didn't play well," Samson said. "I don't think we came very prepared to play. I could see it before the game. There was just no excitement or enthusiasm in some of our kids."
Northern had 247 yards of total offense. Kyle Samson completed 17 of 23 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 68 yards. Wirtzberger caught seven passes for 52 yards, while Arnold snagged five balls for 55 yards.
"We just weren't mentally ready to play on either side of the ball," Samson said. "If we are mentally ready, we move the ball better and they don't rush for that many yards on us."
While Samson doesn't think his team took a step back in terms of its development, he was struggling to find any silver linings in the loss.
"Even in the other two games that we lost, I was able to find some positives," he said. "But there wasn't any in this game."
Northern will return home to face UM-Western on Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
MSU-Northern 6 6 0 6 - 18
Montana Tech 7 6 3 7 - 23
MT - Zach Soukup 20 run (Dan Kleckner kick) 11:08
MSU-N - Nick Arnold 20 pass from Kyle Samson (kick failed) 5:10
MT - Teague Egan 5 run (kick failed) 11:05
MSU-N - Arnold 4 pass from Samson (kick failed) 1:22
MT - FG, 55 Kleckner 6:28
MT - Josh Johnson 2 run (Kleckner kick) 10:25
MSU-N - Danny Wirtzberger 3 pass from Samson (run failed) :41
First downs 20 20
Rushing 39-130 55-342
Passing 17-23-1 6-7-0
Passing yards 117 62
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties 7-63 8-58
Punting 5-35.6 2-27.5
Time of possession 27:05 35:36
RUSHING - MSU-N: Kyle Samson 20-68, Zach Wermers 9-54,Don Saisbury 8-19. MT: Teague Egan 14-116, Josh Johnson 20-124, Brian Styck 6-52, Corey Warner 10-28, Zach Soukup 1-20, Kevin Dighans 4-18.
PASSING - MSU-N: Samson 17-23-1-171. MT: Brian Styck 6-7-0-86.
RECEIVING - MSU-N: Danny Wirtzberger 7-52, Nick Arnold 5-55, Don Saisbury 2-31, Zach Wermers 2-26, Tyler Allen 1-7. MT: K. Dighans 2-29, Alex Grevas 1-24, Z. Soukup 1-15, Koa