Havre Daily News Sports Editor
Before Saturday's game with No. 17 Eastern Oregon, Montana State University-Northern head football coach Mark Samson had said beating two ranked opponents this season would be a huge step for the Lights' program.
On Saturday, not only did the Lights beat their second ranked team of the season, they did it in dominating and convincing fashion. They drubbed the Mountaineers from La Grande, Ore., 35-14, in front of a boisterous crowd at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre.
After the win, MSU-N quarterback Kyle Samson agreed with his father's assessment of what the win does for the program.
“It's huge,” Samson said of the Lights' wins over previously ranked Dickenson State and Eastern Oregon. “Our team is like night and day from last year. To beat two great nationally ranked programs in one year is a huge accomplishment for this program.
“This win today just gives us more confidence,” he added. “The guys are really starting to believe that we can go out there and get it done every week.”
Kyle Samson is one of the reasons why Eastern Oregon went home demoralized on Saturday. The quarterback rushed for 166 yards on 21 carries and also threw for 191 yards and a score. Most of Samson's yards came in the second half, and a big chunk of them came on the three-play drive that sealed EOU's fate.
With the Lights already leading 28-14, Samson from his own 10-yard line broke two runs totaling 71 yards to put the ball on the MSU-N 19-yard line. From there, he handed off to Don Saisbury, who promptly scampered 19 yards untouched into the end zone to finish the Mountaineers off for good.
“I have to give all of the credit to my offensive line today,” Samson said. “They dominated the second half and really wore Eastern Oregon down. They opened up some big holes for me and for all of our running backs, and we had a really good day rushing the football.”
Mark Samson agreed with Kyle's assessment of the Lights' ability to pound the football at Eastern Oregon.
“We actually played a little conservatively in the second half,” he said. “We had a lot more pass plays we put in that we never got to use.
“But we were having a lot of success running the football. Kyle and Donny and Zach Wermers all ran the ball really well and I think that last drive really put Eastern Oregon back on their heels.”
Another giant step for the Lights was the way they won. Twice Eastern Oregon cut the Lights' lead back to seven points, and both times the Lights responded with scores. It is a sign that Samson's team is maturing.
“I really liked that we were able to answer their scores,” Samson said. “Eastern Oregon is a good football team and they played well.
“Both times they cut into our lead, there was no panic in our kids,” he added. “They were calm and confident, and they went back out and executed our game plan really well.”
On their third possession of the first quarter, the Lights finally took advantage of good field position when they drove the ball 46 yards for the first score of the game. Wermers capped off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run that put the Lights out in front 7-0. Northern padded that lead when Samson shocked the Mountaineer secondary, hitting Saisbury right up the middle of the field. Saisbury took the perfect pass and raced 75 yards untouched to the end zone to put his team up 14-0.
It didn't take long for EOU's potent offense to strike back. On the ensuing possession, running back Tyronne Grosse scampered 53 yards to the end zone, breaking several tackles along the way to make the score 14-7.
That is when the Lights' opportunistic defense got into the action. On EOU's next possession, quarterback Scott Jensen fumbled the snap and the Lights recovered the ball. On the next play from scrimmage, Wermers scored his second TD of the day, this time from 25 yards out.
“Our defense played well all day,” Mark Samson said. “We didn't play perfect football, but we had a lot of kids step up and contribute in a lot of different ways. And our defense was really sharp against a really good offensive team.”
Up 21-7 at halftime, the Lights' offense would be called upon to answer Eastern Oregon one more time. The Mountaineers boldly marched down the field on the third quarter's opening possession.
The drive resulted in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jensen to Devin Smith. The score got EOU back to within seven points at 21-14. From there, the two teams traded possessions.
With the game still very much in doubt, the Lights got the ball back with 4:52 left in the third period. Samson and Saisbury did most of the damage on the ground, and Samson also hooked up with Nick Arnold for a key 14-yard pass play on third down. On third and goal from the 1-yard line, Samson fumbled the snap but recovered his own fumble. Coach Samson opted not to kick a field goal, and seconds later Kyle Samson dove over the right tackle to put the Lights ahead 28-14.
“I think that last drive and score in the third quarter really put the nail in the coffin,” Mark Samson said. “You don't want to say anyone ever nails it in. But from that point our defense was in control and we were pretty much running the ball right at them on offense.”
Saisbury had a monster day for the Lights. He carried the ball 14 times for 78 yards and also caught five balls for 100 yards.
“Donny had a huge day,” coach Samson said. “That was the hardest I've seen him run the ball all year.”
As a team, the Lights rolled up 494 total yards of offense, with 303 of them coming on the ground. Northern also dominated the time of possession, and the Lights' defense limited Jensen to 212 yards passing, well below his season average.
“This was a real big win for us in a lot of ways,” Samson said. “I just really liked how well we played for most of the game. The kids pretty much put a complete football game together, and we beat a real good football team.”
The Lights (4-3) will now have the opportunity to knock off a second ranked team in as many weeks when the No. 1 Carroll College Fighting Saints come to Blue Pony Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Lights 35, Mountaineers 14
E. Oregon 0 7 7 0 - 14
MSU-Northern 7 14 7 7 - 35
MSU-N- Zach Wermers 15 run (Chaz Kountz kick), 4:27
MSU-N- Don Saisbury 75 pass from Kyle Samson (Kountz kick), 12:35
EOU -Tyronne Gross 53 run (Bloom kick), 12:05
MSU-N -Wermers 25 run (Kountz kick), 10:53
EOU -Smith 12 pass from Jensen (Bloom kick), 12:13
MSU-N -Kyle Samson 1 run (Kountz kick), :20
MSU-N -Don Saisbury 19 run (Kountz kick), 9:41
First downs 19 25
Rushes-yards 30-194 53-303
Passing yards 212 191
Total yards 406 494
Passes 20-33-0 12-20-0
Punts-ave 8-30 4-30
Pen-yards 8-73 4-43
Fum-lost 1-1 2-1
RUSHING-E. Oregon, Gross 20-169, Jensen 9-23, Denny 1-2. MSU-Northern, Kyle Samson 21-166, Don Saisbury 14-78, Zach Wermers 9-58, Justin Moe 3-18.
PASSING-E. Oregon, Jensen 20-32-0-212, Abrams 0-1-0-0. MSU-Northern, Kyle Samson 12-20-0-191.
RECEIVING-E. Oregon, Amos 8-51, Fox 3-43, McSwain 3-23, Smith 2-15. MSU-Northern, Don Saisbury 5-100, Nick Arnold 3-42, Danny Wirtzberger 2-22, Tyler Allen 1-24.