Havre Daily News Sports Editor
Pretty is a word that shouldn't be used in football. It's a word for cheerleaders.
It certainly wouldn't be used to describe the Montana State University-Northern football team's 21-16 win over the Rocky Mountain College Battlin' Bears on Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
There was little if any aesthetic beauty in the Lights' second win of the season.
"We did what we had to do to win," said Lights head coach Mark Samson. "It was by no means pretty."
Lights fullback Zach Wermers lumbered in from 8 yards out with 6:07 remaining in the game to put a serious damper on Rocky's fading victory hopes. Wermers' touchdown run capped an eight-play, 60-yard drive.
"That last touchdown drive was nothing but excellent blocking," Samson said.
On Rocky's ensuing possession, the Bears failed to gain a yard as fullback Clint Franklin was stuffed on first down and Adam Sanchez couldn't connect with receivers on the next two plays. Rocky punted the ball away with just 5:45 remaining in the game. It would be the last time it would have the ball.
Northern, behind Wermers, tailback Don Saisbury and quarterback Kyle Samson, grinded the clock down with a solid rushing attack, netting three first downs and ending the game with a pair of Samson kneel-downs. It was one of the few times Northern lost yards on the ground in the second half. Samson was quick to point out the efforts of offensive linemen Mitch Stageberg, Scott Church, Russ Hilton, Levi Wesche and Will Deegan.
"I really thought our offensive line took control in the second half," Coach Samson said. "Donny and Zach did a nice job carrying the ball the entire game."
"The offensive line did everything," Wermers said. "I get the ball and just run through holes and they were huge. They just made huge holes for us all day long."
Northern looked like it would run away from the Bears early in the game. The Lights moved the ball efficiently on their first possession, but bogged down deep in Rocky territory. The second possession proved to be more fruitful as Kyle Samson marched the team 65-yards in 11 plays and connected with Nick Arnold on a 17-yard touchdown pass.
Northern upped its lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter. Wermers took a screen pass and rumbled 33 yards down to the Rocky 1-yard-line. Two plays later, he plunged across to give the Lights the lead and a ton of momentum.
But all of that momentum ended on the ensuing kickoff when Rocky redshirt freshman Daniel Ghormley took the Marc McBryan kick and raced 90 yards virtually untouched for a score to cut the lead to 14-7.
"The kickoff return took a lot out of us," Coach Samson said. "Everybody was just like 'oh no, here we go again.'"
The momentum continued to move in the Bears' favor as the Rocky defense registered a stop on Northern's next possession. Sanchez drove the Bears deep into Lights territory connecting with Justin Airola on a pretty 32-yard reception, giving Rocky first and goal from the 4-yard-line. However, four consecutive runs could not get the Bears into the end zone. On fourth-and-1, Justin Venn was stopped short.
"That goal-line stand was huge," said Lights linebacker Kennedy Anderson, who had eight tackles on the day. "It showed us that when we play sound defense we can stop anybody."
"Fourth-and-1, you have to be able to put it in," said Rocky head coach David Reeves. "A lot of the kids came off the field and felt it was in. I can't see that far down the field. But you shouldn't make it a judgment call, you have to make sure it's no doubt."
However, Northern's joy from the goal-line stand evaporated in two plays as Samson made a risky pitch to Saxton Shearer on an option play. Shearer bobbled the ball and was drilled in the end zone by three Rocky players for a safety with 1:13 remaining in the first half.
The Bears weren't through. They got excellent field position on the free kick from the safety and Sanchez went to work completing passes to Airola, Bobby Coleman and Michael Clark to move deep into Lights territory. After giving his team a scoring opportunity with his arm, Sanchez did it with his feet, scrambling 16 yards for a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining in the first half.
"The momentum totally changed," Reeves said. "It was ours. I felt like if we came out in third quarter and put together a good drive we could have put them away. I think everybody knew it, too."
However, the drive never materialized as Rocky could not replicate the offensive production it showed in the second quarter. Neither team was particularly sharp offensively in the third quarter.
"I was very impressed with how our defense was flying to the ball in the second half," Samson said. "We never really let them get going offensively."
Northern dominated time of possession in the game, as Rocky's defense was on the field for much of the fourth quarter. The Lights held the ball more than 31 minutes in the game thanks to a healthy rushing attack that racked up 239 yards.
"Our offensive line really took control," Samson said. "I told the kids before the game that if we got more than 200 yards rushing, we have a great chance of being successful. That's how you win football games."
Of the Lights' 386 yards of total offense, Kyle Samson accounted for 217 yards, rushing for 70 and throwing for 147. But every one of those yards was hard earned. Saisbury, who leads the conference in all-purpose yards, had 77 yards rushing and 24 yards receiving.
"They have the two top offensive kids in the conference," Reeves said. "We knew we weren't going to shut them out, but I thought we did a pretty good job controlling them."
Wermers made his presence felt with his best game of his short Lights' career. The Montana State transfer had a game-high 85 yards rushing and also caught three passes for 37 yards.
Arnold and Dan Wirtzberger added four catches each.
Rocky (0-4) rolled up 256 yards of total offense with Sanchez completing 11 of 22 passes for 107 yards. The Bears got a solid game from former KG standout Roger Larson, who registered 13 tackles.
"We have to be better at sustaining drives," Reeves said. "We moved the ball, but never could finish drives."
Defensively, Northern was led by Lee Dresch, who had 11 tackles. Marc Samson added 10 tackles.
After his team started last year 0-10, Coach Samson knows exactly what Reeves and the Bears are going through.
"Give those guys credit; they play hard," Coach Samson said. "I told our kids that as young as they are they are going to play their tails off and they did. They never quit.
"It's a good win for us," Samson said. "How often does this team and school get to experience success on homecoming? The biggest thing is we're 2-2 and ready to start thinking about Montana Tech."
Rocky Mountain 0 16 0 0 - 16
MSU-Northern 7 7 0 7 - 21
MSU-N - Nick Arnold 18 pass from Kyle Samson (Chaz Kountz kick) 3:51
MSU-N - Zach Wermers 1 run (Kountz kick) 7:55
RMC - David Ghormley 91 kick return (Tyler Cano kick) 7:38
RMC - Safety (Saxton Shearer tackled in end zone)
RMC - Sanchez 16 run (Tyler Cano kick) :15
MSU-N - Wermers 8 run (Kountz kick) 6:07
First downs 23 10
Rushes-yards 61-239 24-149
Passing yards 147 107
Att-Comp-Int 22-15-0 23-12-0
Total offense 386 256
Fumble returns-yds 2-85 0-0
Punt returns-yds 4-28 2-(-3)
Punts-average 2-36 6-31.5
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-2
Penalties-yds 4-40 6-44
Possession time 31:47 18:43
Rushing - RMC: Adam Sanchez 5-51, Clint Franklin 11-40; Justin Airola 1-33, Jason Hagadone 1-19, Justin Venn 5-8, David Ghormley 1 (-1). MSU-N: Zach Wermers 12-85; Don Saisbury 15-77, Kyle Samson 26-70, Saxton Shearer 6-9.
Passing - RMC: Adam Sanchez 11-22-100; MSU-N: Kyle Samson 15-22-147
Receiving - RMC: Justin Airola 4-25, Chris Clark 3-22, Bobby Coleman 2-24, Jason Hagadone 1-20, Clint Franklin 1-10, Justin Venn 1-6. MSU-N: Nick Arnold 4-45, Dan Wirtzberger 4-33, Zach Wermers 3-37, Don Saisbury 2-24, Tyler Allen 1-7, Marc Samson 1-1.