Havre Daily News Sports
Saturday's football game is one that Montana State University-Northern head coach Marc Samson hopes won't go the way of the first matchup between Northern and the University of Montana-Western Bulldogs.
In that first wild shootout just over a month ago in Dillon, the Bulldogs edged the Lights, 34-33. It was a game that the Lights let get away from them, with two missed extra points and a missed field goal.
”It is tough to play everybody twice a year because everybody is so evenly matched, especially the second time around,“ Samson said. ”But the Western game is one that our guys feel like they let slip away in Dillon. So I am sure they are looking forward to getting out there and trying to get a win.“
Letting games slip away is much different than getting beat outright. Northern's kicking woes in Dillon reappeared in a close loss to Frontier Conference front-runner Montana Tech. Eliminating those mistakes and others are part of the maturing process for the Lights football program, but it could also be the difference on Saturday afternoon when the Lights try to split the season series with the Bulldogs.
”We're pretty evenly matched,“ Samson said. ”Both offenses had a lot of success in the first game and, at times, so did the defenses.
”I think that eliminating some of the mistakes we made the first time around would make a big difference,“ he added. ”Special teams are one area where we certainly need to get better. It is something we work hard at and do very well in practice. It just seems to break down in games.“
Indeed, both offenses had a big day in Dillon last month, particularly the quarterbacks. Western's Justin Hartman threw for 366 yards and a multitude of touchdowns against what has become a very stiff Lights defense. Northern quarterback Kyle Samson also had a huge day offensively, throwing for 247 yards and rushing for 48 more. The Lights' ground game gained a total of 196 yards on a young Western defense. And there is no reason to think that this Saturday will be any different.
”Well, I hope it is just our team that is going up and down the field,“ Samson said. ”But Hartman is a very solid quarterback and he had his best game of the season against us. He is certainly a concern.
”What is more important for us is just to put a more consistent game together,“ the coach added. ”We have been in a position to win almost every game and that is a real positive. We have also had breakdowns in crucial moments. We just need to be more consistent from beginning to end.“
Despite the fact that the Bulldogs possess a win over Northern this season, the Lights have the edge in most offensive categories. Samson is among the top quarterbacks in the Frontier Conference in almost every passing category. Samson is also the fifth-leading rusher in the conference.
Hartman ranks right behind Samson in passing efficiency. Western has one of the top receivers in the conference in Jake Larson. The junior has already caught 27 balls for 386 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Lights' Don Saisbury is third in the conference in all-purpose yards. In fact, all three of the Lights' running backs - Saisbury, Zach Wermers and Saxton Shearer - rank in the top 15 in all-purpose yards this season.
Team statistics also show a major edge for Northern. The Lights are ranked second behind Carroll College in scoring offense and total offense, while Western ranks last in both. The Lights' opportunistic defense also ranks second in scoring and in total defense.
Still, Western has the one win against the Lights this season.Samson said it should be a difficult matchup once again, despite the game being played in Havre.
”I am sure Western is coming up here gunning for us,“ Samson said. ”They have had a rough last couple of games against Idaho State and Carroll College.
”But they also had a week off, so they should be rested and ready to play,“ he added. ”Again, it is just so tough to play everyone twice. We have had a good week of practice, though, and we are healthy right now. So our guys should be ready to play.“
Saturday's game between MSU-Northern (1-3, 2-3) and UM-Western (1-4, 1-2) will get under way at 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can be heard