George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Here we go again. Saturday is round two between Montana State University-Northern and Carroll College. And this time it’s late October and the Frontier Conference championship is hanging in the balance. But make no mistake, the winner of Saturday’s monumental tilt in Havre between the No. 1 Saints and No. 9 Lights won’t lock up the Frontier Conference championship just yet. Surprisingly, Montana Tech and Eastern Oregon might still have something to say about it. Both Northern and Carroll still have difficult road games left after they do battle Saturday. The Lights still have to make the long trip to La Grande, Ore., and the Mountaineers have been a tough out for most Frontier teams this season. The Saints also have a visit to Montana Tech next weekend, and the Orediggers are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, not to mention, Butte gets very excited when the Saints come to town. But for now, the Lights and Saints are focused on perhaps the biggest game in the NAIA this season. Carroll narrowly escaped an MSU-N upset on Sept. 23 in Helena. It took a late touchdown pass from John Barnett to a diving Bryce Doak for Carroll to eke out a 12-7 win at Nelson Stadium. Both defense’s were dominant in the first meeting and have been dominant ever since. The Saints are ranked second nationally in scoring defense, surrendering a ridiculous 4.8 points per game. Northern is seventh at 10.1 points per contest. The Saints allow a mere 212 total yards per game, while the Lights are giving up just 245 yards per contest. So despite the fact that MSU-N is rated in the Frontier offensively, with the Saints just behind the Lights, fans will likely not see a highscoring shootout like the Carroll games of the past. Saturday’s game will also have a Helena feel for sure in Havre. The Saints’ roster is loaded with Helena natives and MSU-N has 16 players from the capitol city on its roster as well as head coach Marc Samson. Carroll also brings several Hi-Line players home on Saturday, including former Havre High standout Gary Wagner, who is the Saints’ backup quarterback, as well as former KG three-sport star Casey Crites. Jarrod Wirt is an assistant on the Saints’ staff. While the conference title can’t be clinched on Saturday, the winner of the Carroll/Northern game will surely sew up a playoff spot regardless of what happens in the last two games of the season. MSU-N has already put together the best season in school history with its seven wins. And a win against Carroll, with EOU and Tech, would go along way towards getting the Lights into the playoffs. Meanwhile, if the Saints can get out of Havre with a victory on Saturday, they will have two chances to at least clinch a share of their seventh conference championship under head coach Mike Van Diest.
While Carroll and Northern may have the inside track on the conference championship, the No. 17 Montana Tech Orediggers aren’t out of the race just yet. Despite losses to both the Saints and Lights, Tech still has games against both teams upcoming, meaning, the Orediggers’ postseason fate is literally in their own hands. However, one loss in their last three games, and the Orediggers are likely out of playoff contention. No four-loss team has gotten into the NAIA playoffs in recent memory, and the Frontier traditionally does not get two at-large berths. That being said, the Orediggers will have to run the table the rest of the season or hope that the Lights or Saints stumble badly down the stretch. Tech starts its three-game gauntlet on Saturday at UM-Western. Not an easy way to start a three-game stretch that includes Carroll at home and a trip to Havre to close the season. The Bulldogs are coming off a loss to Carroll in which they played extremely well for three quarters. But in the end, Western’s run defense broke down and the Saints won going away. Still, Western hasn’t played like a 0-7 team the last two weeks. The B u l l d o g s played a great first half two weeks ago in Havre, before giving the Saints a scare in Havre. Western quarterback Travis Blome is back to his old self after suffering a shoulder injury almost a month ago. Despite missing time in two of his last three games, Blome is the Frontier’s leading passer and is 14th in all of NAIA football. The Bulldogs are left with little to play for this season, but they would love nothing more than for their first win of the year to be at home against their most bitter rival, Montana Tech. The EOU Mountaineers, despite their 2-5 record, are playing solid football with the exception of last week’s shutout loss to Carroll. EOU is among the middle of the Frontier in both offense and defense, and the Mountaineers have a bona fide superstar in receiver, return specialist Jomo Wilson, who is among the league leaders in receiving and allpurpose yardage. That all spells trouble for Rocky Mountain College which hosts EOU in Billings on Saturday. RMC kept things close with MSU-N last Saturday in Billings, but turnovers and personal fouls helped RMC completely unravel against the Lights in the second half en route to . Rocky has been plagued by turnovers this season. The Bears are last in turnover margin and they are also one of the most penalized teams in the league. That combined with the Frontier’s worst defense has killed what was once high hopes for a great season in Billings, especially after the Bears opened the year with a win against Minot State. However, with three games left, the Bears have a chance to make something out of nothing, and that can start on Saturday with a win against the Mountaineers at home.