George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming into Saturday’s season opener, both Montana State University- Northern head coach Mark Samson and Dickinson State head coach Hank Bieosit admitted they weren’t sure what either of them would get from their offenses. And things held true to form as both offenses struggled to find a rhythm. However, MSU-N got star performances from youngsters like Luke McKinley and Stetson Koffman, and that enabled the No. 12 Lights to open the 2007 season with an 18-10 win Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium. The Lights didn’t score an offensive touchdown Saturday, but McKinley kicked three long field goals and Koffman came up with two crucial turnovers, including an interception that he returned for a touchdown as the Lights did just enough to start the year 1-0. “We won the game and that right now is the most important thing,” Samson said. “I thought the defense played pretty well the whole game, and the offense did some good things at times. So now we just need to take all that and build on it.” McKinley was a factor on both sides of the ball. Last year, the Great Falls native was inconsistent in the kicking game, but not on Saturday. He gave the struggling MSU-N offense a huge lift by booting kicks of 36, 39 and 47 yards, and he did it with supreme confidence. McKinley also stood out on defense, as he was making his first career start at cornerback. “Luke had a great game,” Samson said. “He not only made some very important kicks, but he really played a great game on defense too.” The first two McKinley kicks gave MSU-N an 8-0 halftime lead. The Lights dominated the first half of football, holding the Blue Hawks without a first down, and picking up a safety late in the first quarter. On offense, MSU-N sophomore Jeff Van Nest got off to a good start, connecting with Coda Tchida on his first pass. And the Lights did manage to move the ball well in the first and second quarters, but none of their first-half possessions would result in touchdowns, leaving McKinley to do a lot of the work. “That’s my job,” McKinley said. “I just go in there and try to help the offense put points on the board. And I was able to come through today.” The Blue Hawks' offense did manage to get something going in the third quarter behind backup quarterback Caleb Midura. DSU rallied to put a 48-yard Shawn O’Brien field goal on the board to close the gap to 8-3 midway through the third quarter, And DSU got the ball right back when Koffman took over the game for the Lights’ vaunted defense. Koffman picked off an errant Midura pass and returned it 30 yards for the Lights only touchdown of the day. And in the fourth quarter, with DSU driving again and trailing only 15-10, Koffman recovered a fumble and moved the ball back into DSU territory. Four minutes later, McKinley nailed his third field goal, putting the game out of reach. “I saw our d-line hit the quarterback and the ball just floated right to me,” Koffman said of his interception. “From there Kennedy Anderson just led me all the way in. “To get two big turnovers like that was huge for our defense today,” he added. “Turnovers are big in any game and they were important for us today. But I thought our offense played well. The quarterbacks had some first-game jitters but I thought they both did a really good job today, and our defense was really solid.” Both of MSU-N’s inexperienced quarterbacks saw significant action on Saturday and both did some things to help the Lights win. Van Nest showed flashes in the passing game, going 9-of- 23 for 90 yards and no turnovers. But it was true freshman Garren Hammons who finished the game and led the Lights on a solid drive in the fourth quarter which set up McKinley’s final kick. In all, Hammons rushed for 45 yards on eight carries. “We played both quarterbacks and they both did some good things,” Samson said. “But we just didn’t really get anything out of our passing game and that sort of made us onedimensional. That is something we are going to have to get fixed and honestly, we have a lot of work to do offensively. But again, we won the game, and that’s what really matters at this point.” The Lights’ offense did rack up 295 yards of total offense, including 186 on the ground. Saxton Shearer led the way with 80 yards on 17 carries and Donny Saisbury added 31 yards on nine carries. Saisbury also helped put DSU in bad field position all day long with another strong punting effort. Defensively, MSU-N was as advertised. The Lights’ veteran defense held DSU under 100 yards of total offense after tackles-for-loss were factored in, and the Blue Hawks managed just 22 yards on the ground on 30 attempts. DSU’s rushing attack is normally one of the best in the country. "Our defense played great today," McKinley said. "And I thought the offense performed well. There are things we need to take care of and we will, but this was a great win for us and now we just have to go get ready for a very physical Montana Tech team." The Lights (1-0) will now prepare for their Frontier Conference opener Saturday in Butte against Montana Tech. The Orediggers (1-0) were idle this weekend after opening the season with a win at Southern Oregon on Aug. 25. Last year, MSU-N swept Montana Tech in the season series. "We're happy about getting that first win," Samson said. "We have had injuries and some other things in prefall camp that made getting through this first game pretty challenging. And we were able to do that. So now, we just have to build on this and get ready for Montana Tech."