Havre Daily News Sports
Montana State University-Northern head football coach Mark Samson said he was looking for some consistency out of his team heading into Saturday's matchup with the University of Montana-Western Bulldogs.
What Samson got from the Lights was domination from beginning to end in a 37-19 Frontier Conference win over Western at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre.
The Lights were consistent on both sides of the football as they racked up 407 total yards of offense and also took the ball away from Western six times on defense. Two of those takeaways by the opportunistic Lights defense resulted directly in scores.
”I thought we played very solid football and we were in control of the game pretty much the whole way,“ Samson said. ”What I like most is the fact that the guys played with a great deal of emotion and a high amount of energy. That is something we were sorely lacking the last couple of games.“
Indeed, the defense controlled the game early, forcing Western into several three-and-out situations. Although the defense surrendered 400 yards of total offense to the Bulldogs, MSU-N wide receiver Nick Arnold had nothing but praise for his teammates.
”I thought the defense really set the tone,“ Arnold said. ”They went out and played hard and were all over the field. Getting all those turnovers were really big for us because it really gave us some momentum.“
The only moment when the outcome was still in serious doubt came early in the first quarter. On the Lights' first possession, quarterback Kyle Samson marched the team straight down the field and running back Zach Wermers appeared to have Northern's first score as he plunged toward the goal line from the 1-yard line. But Wermers fumbled the ball and gave Western possession on its own goal line. Turnovers were the only thing that coach Samson thought his team may have done wrong on Saturday.
”I thought we turned the ball over too many times,“ Samson said. ”But Western really never capitalized on them, which was good for us.“
It didn't take the Lights much longer to start scoring. Early in the second quarter, Samson again drove the Lights downfield and the Lights even used some trickery to help get in the end zone. On a crucial third-down play, Samson pitched the ball to Don Saisbury, who then threw a perfect pass to a wide open Arnold for a big gain that kept the drive alive. On the very next play, Saisbury was rewarded by taking the ball into the end zone from 9 yards out to give the Lights a 7-0 lead.
”That is a play we worked on this week,“ Arnold said. ”Donny threw a great pass and it turned out to be a really big play for us because it set up our first score.“
The Lights scored again on their next possession when Samson reached the end zone from 9 yards out. And just before the half ended, Northern upped its lead when sophomore defensive back Marc Samson jumped a route, picked off Western quarterback Travis Blome, and raced 60 yards for a score that upped the Lights' lead to 21-7 at the half. The only Bulldog touchdown came on a broken coverage when Blome hit freshman wide receiver Travis Hartman for a 39-yard TD pass.
”I thought our defense played really well all day and so did our offense,“ coach Samson said. ”It was really nice to jump out and get a lead and not have to play from behind in the second half. The guys just played with a lot more confidence in this game than in the last couple of weeks.“
Western managed to close the gap early in the third quarter when Blome hit Caleb Drinkwalter for a 22-yard touchdown pass. That cut the Lights' lead down to 21-13 after Western failed to convert the point after.
Despite the early Bulldog score, it was obvious that neither Northern's offense nor its defense was going to be denied a crucial conference win.
The Lights answered Drinkwalter's TD with a field goal by Chaz Kountz. In the fourth quarter Northern tacked on 13 insurance points, the first of which came on a 2-yard touchdown run by Saisbury. The final score of the day came when Dylan Saisbury picked up a Blome fumble and returned it 49 yards for a score that put the Bulldogs away for good.
”This was a great win for us because we have several home games in a row,“ Arnold said. ”It is also the first time the seniors on this team have ever beaten Western.“
The Lights' offensive output included more than 200 yards rushing on the day. Kyle Samson led the way with 71 yards rushing, while Wermers and Saisbury added 48 and 43 yards, respectively. Samson also threw the ball well. Despite not throwing for any touchdowns, the quarterback went 13 of 18 for 171 yards.
”I thought Kyle had a good day passing the ball,“ coach Samson said. ”But I told the guys that we seem to have a lot more success when we rush for over 200 yards. We've done that in every game we have won this year, and we did it against Western on Saturday.“
The Bulldogs got a valiant effort from Blome, who was returning to the starting lineup because of an injury to Justin Hartman two weeks ago. Blome completed 24 of 46 passes for 293 yards, and threw three interceptions, including the key one that Marc Samson returned for a score in the second quarter. Justin Hartman led all receivers with 134 yards on seven catches.
The win pushes the Lights' overall record back to .500 at 3-3 this season. They are now 2-3 in conference play.
”I think we're sitting pretty good right now,“ Samson said. ”We have a couple more home games and if we continue to play well, who knows what can happen down the road.“
The Lights will step out of conference play this Saturday when they host Eastern Oregon University at 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium.
Lights 37, Bulldogs 19
UM-Western 0 7 6 6 - 19
MSU-Northern 0 21 3 13 - 37
MSUN-Don Saisbury 9 run (Kountz kick), 14:33 (9 plays/76 yards, 3:57)
MSUN-Kyle Samson 9 run (Kountz kick), 10:20 (7/62, 3:42)
UMW-Travis Hartman 39 pass from Travis Blome (Hollen kick), 7:40 (6/73, 1:27)
MSUN-Marc Samson 60 interception return (Kountz kick), 2:44
UMW-Caleb Drinkwalter 22 pass from Blome (kick failed), 10:05 (12/80, 4:55)
MSUN-FG Kountz 25, 6:06 (9/57, 3:59)
MSUN-Saisbury 2 run (Kountz kick), 14:55 (7/79, 2:04)
MSUN-Dilan Saisbury 49 fumble recovery (kick failed), 13:18
UMW-Mike Bogy 18 pass from Blome (kick failed), 2:09 (3/33, 2:42)
First downs 23 22
Rushes-yards 26-111 51-206
Passing yards 293 201
Comp-Att-Int 24-46-3 14-20-2
Punts-avg. 4-38.5 2-39.5
Fumbles-lost 3-3 3-2
Penalties-yards 12-91 8-59
RUSHING-UMW, Drinkwalter 15-65, Blome 9-36, Edwards 1-10, Hayes 1-0. MSUN, Kyle Samson 10-71, Wermers 12-48, Saisbury 7-43, Shearer 10-34, Moe 3-10, Largent 1-0.
PASSING-UMW, Blome 24-46-3-293. MSUN, Kyle Samson 13-18-1-177, Saisbury 1-2-1-24.
RECEIVING-UMW, Travis Hartman 7-134, Drinkwalter 4-44, Bogy 3-41, Larson 3-34, Schultz 3-29, Gueleff 2-4, Allen 1-10, Raisl 1 (minus 3). MSUN, Wirtzberger 5-65, Marc Samson 3-44, Arnold 2-52, Saisbury 2-13, Eldridge 1-17, Shearer 1-10.
MISSED FIELD GOALS-UMW, none. MSUN, Kountz 25.