George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Winning at home in the Frontier Conference is almost a must if you have aspirations beyond an average season. So the fact that the No. 16 Montana State University-Northern Lights have lost two straight home games after going undefeated at Blue Pony Stadium last year probably doesn't sit well with the Lights or head coach Mark Samson. And Saturday at 1 p.m., the Lights (3-2, 2-2) will celebrate homecoming, and in the process, try to get back on track at home when they host winless Eastern Oregon University (0-5, 0-4) at 1 p.m. "Last week, we talked about just needing to start winning again. That was our theme for the week, just getting back to winning," Samson said. "Now we need to win at home. We've lost two in a row at home and we need to get that back on track. And we need to play well too. We really need to improve this week, and get things going again." Actually, with home losses to UMWestern and Carroll College, the Lights are basically in a must-win situation from here on out if they want to make a second straight trip to the NAIA postseason. And Northern responded to that scenario with a 21-7 win at Rocky Mountain College last weekend in Billings. It was the Lights sixth straight victory over the Bears. Still, Samson admits his team didn't play as well offensively as he would of liked it to, and he knows that despite EOU being winless on the season, the Lights must be better on Saturday. "We were inconsistent at times again last week," Samson said. "But I have to believe we are going to come out and play well. Obviously we need to improve offensively, but we also need to make sure we win this game. You really hope that you can do both at this point." Northern freshman Garren Hammons will be making his third straight start at quarterback for the Lights. Hammons has played well, especially in the running game where he is currently fourth in the Frontier Conference and tops on MSU-N's team. As expected, the Lights are near the top of the league in rushing, averaging 170 yards per game, and Hammons picks up about 50 of those yards per outing. Saxton Shearer and Donny Saisbury also rank in the Top 10 in the league in rushing. But the passing game is where the Lights have had the most trouble. Northern is fourth in the league at just 159. 9 yards per game, but overall Hammons ranks fourth in the conference in total offense. So, despite the low passing numbers, Hammons has been able to produce for the Lights in his short career. As for EOU, the Mountaineers are struggling on both sides of the ball. EOU was picked to finish fourth in the Frontier this season, and it was thought that the Mounties would have a potent offense. But they rank at or near the bottom of the conference in most offensive categories, including a leagueworst 92. 5 passing yards per game, and 249. 4 total yards per game average. Still, Samson believes that Saturday's game could be a difficult one for a Lights' defense that is playing dominant football right now. "They are scary," Samson said. "They do things we don't necessarily see in this league every day. "You have to be very disciplined defensively against them," he added. "They might be youthful, but they are very athletic and skilled, and because of the things they do both offensivelyand defensively, they are a very dangerous team." Northern found out just how dangerous the Mounties can be last season when the Lights lost to EOU in LaGrande, Ore., late in the season. The loss probably cost MSU-N a home playoff game. In that game, running back Travis Morschek gave the MSU-N defense fits, and he is the catalyst in second-year head coach Ian Shields team. Morschek is seventh in the league in rushing this season at 41 yards per game, and he is dangerous in the Mounties winged attack. The quarterback position, on the other hand, has been an area of inconsistency for EOU, and the Mounties will probably play both true freshman Bradley Padayo and veteran Ian O'Brien. Both Qbs saw action last week, and O'Brien has played in Havre the last two seasons. "If we have an advantage, it's that they (EOU) are a little young on offense, and they are making their second long trip in a row," Samson said. "But again, I just think they are a very dangerous team, and even though our defense is playing really well right now, what they do is a concern for us. It's just a totally different style than we're used to. "But I also trust that we're going to play well," he added. "The only thing we're worried about right now is Eastern Oregon and I think we have a good game plan in place. So I trust and know that our kids are going to come out and play very hard and put their best effort out there this week." Saturday's homecoming game between MSU-N and EOU will kick off at 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game can also be heard on 92.5 KPQX FM.