George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes victory isn’t perfect. In football, the word perfection is always strived for and very rarely achieved. But the ninth-ranked Montana State University-Northern Lights’ 34-14 homecoming victory over the University of Montana-Western Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium was anything but ugly. The Lights’ suffocating defense forced Western into four costly turnovers, and Northern’s passing game exploited the Bulldog secondary as the Lights improved to 6-1 overall and 5-1 in Frontier Conference play. The victory over Western also assured MSU-N of its first winning season since football was reintroduced almost a decade ago. “It wasn’t pretty offensively at times today,” MSU-N quarterback Kyle Samson said. “But I think we played pretty well. And we’re 6-1 now and you can’t complain about that.” Like their 34-16 win in Dillon last month, the Lights controlled things throughout on Saturday. Northern got a first-quarter touchdown run from Samson to go ahead 7-0 and give MSU-N a lead it would never relinquish. Perhaps more importantly than the score, was the fact that Samson appeared to be mobile again after battling an ankle injury for the last three weeks. The senior quarterback rushed for 29 yards on five carries and also threw a pair of TD passes on his way to 226 yards through the air. “My ankle feels the best it has in awhile,” Samson said. “We have been limited in what we could do offensively the last few weeks because of it. But today I was able to move around a lot more and that allows us to put our option game back in. It felt good to be able to run around out there.” Individual performances and injuries were the story of the day for MSU-N. Lights’ starting wide receiver Nick Bodeman did not play because of an injured hamstring, but receiver Jeff Van Nest and 6-6 tight end Steve Aherns stepped up in his absence. Aherns caught a season-high four passes for 48 yards, including a fouryard touchdown pass in the second quarter that put MSU-N up 14-0 at halftime. “It was good to get Steve the ball,” MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. “He is a big target and it was nice to finally be able to get him the ball. He did a really nice job for us.” Van Nest led all MSU-N receivers with his biggest performance of the season. He caught five passes for 103 yards, including a crucial 22-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter that put the Lights ahead 20-7. Van Nest’s TD came on the heels of a five-yard touchdown reception by Jake Larson for Western’s first score of the game. “Jeff had a really good day,” Mark Samson said. “He has played well this season, but he made some really nice catches today, and he did a good job running his routes and getting open.” Not to be outdone, Northern’s defense shined as well. While the Bulldogs did get things going on their opening drive behind backup quarterback Kal’il Perbera, Northern turned Western away time and time again, mostly on sacks by Kennedy Anderson, Josh Glaun and Andy Leichtnam. “We had some really big individual performances on defense,” Mark Samson said. “I think Western had a really good game plan coming in, especially going no-huddle on us at the start of the game. That caught us off guard on that first drive. But eventually our guys got adjusted, and after that our defense really played good football again.”
Eventually, the Lights’ defense chased Perbera from the game and starting quarterback Travis Blome, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, came on in relief and led Western to its only offensive touchdown. The Bulldogs tried to make things interesting in the fourth quarter. After the Van Nest touchdown, Craig Corneilus returned the Lights’ kickoff 92 yards for a score that pulled the Bulldogs to within 13 points at 27-14 with 14:45 remaining in the game. But as quickly as UM-Western made believers of its fans, Northern’s defense put the finishing touches on the game. Linebacker Dilan Saisbury put a vicious hit on Michael Guelff, causing a fumble in Western territory that safety Marc Samson scooped up and ran in for the final score of contest. Saisbury wasn’t done either. On Western’s next possession, he picked off Blome for the Lights’ fourth takeaway of the day. MSU-N also got an interception from Marc McBryan in the first quarter and a second-quarter interception by cornerback Jake Eldridge. Cornerback Khalin Anderson, who also had a big day on defense, put the final exclamation point on the game by crushing Cornelius on a screen pass on a fourth-down play with six minutes to play. “Dilan had a really big day,” Mark Samson said. "His forced fumble was really important, because Western was trying to build some momentum right there, and that allowed us to take it right back.” Offensively, Northern’s numbers weren’t as flashy as in some of its past games this season. But the Lights did get a productive 138 rushing yards, including a hard-nosed 48 from Don Saisbury, who scored on a five-yard run to put MSU-N ahead 20-0 in the third quarter. “We made some mistakes, and penalties hurt us a little bit,” Mark Samson said. “But you also have to credit Western's defense. They played us pretty tough against the run. They took away the perimeter and we could never really get to the corner on their defense. We would have liked to run the ball better and we know we have some things to clean up and work on. “But all-in-all, I am pleased with our effort and the game that we played,” he added. “And we’re happy about the win and happy about the fact that we’re 6-1 right now.” Kennedy Anderson led the Lights in tackles. “Our defense played well today,” Anderson said. “Getting turnovers is big for us, and we did a good job of that today. It really creates momentum and gives our offense good field position.” Perbera, who was hot early, was largely ineffective throwing the ball. Blome, the league’s second-leading passer did put up 140 yards and a score in only one half of play. Guelff and Cornelius led the Western receiving corps. The Lights will be on the road on Saturday when they travel to Billings for their second meeting with Rocky Mountain College.