George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
The last time the Montana State University-Northern Lights trailed an opponent on their home field, they staged a thrilling comeback, only to see it go for not in the final minutes of the game. But on Saturday afternoon at Blue Pony Stadium, the No. 16 Lights didn't give the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers the same satisfaction. Trailing the winless Mountaineers 13-7 at halftime, the Lights fought their way back, scoring 20 unanswered points in the second half to beat EOU for the third straight year in Havre, 27-13. "We came out a little flat and it showed there for a while," MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. "But I thought in the second half we were a lot more physical and we really got it going when we needed to. I am proud of the kids for hanging in there the way they did. "You have to give them (EOU) a lot of credit too," he added. "They are a good, young football team. I think if they keep that team together, they are going to be pretty good in the future." And the young Mountaineers played admirably in the first half, but it was the Lights who dominated the final 30 minutes. After a scoreless third quarter, the Lights found themselves in a precarious situation down six points with 8:12 to play and the ball resting on the EOU 2-yard-line on a fourth down. Samson elected to go for the touchdown, and freshman quarterback Garren Hammons plunged over left tackle for his second rushing TD of the day. But Luke McKinley's point after attempt bounced off the upright, leaving the game tied at 13-13. Still, it didn't take long for the Lights to re-claim the game, and their home field because on their next possession, junior running back Justin Moe scored on a brilliant 18-yard game-winning run that put MSU-N ahead for good. Moe's run was set up by two great blocks, and the speedster from Florence did the rest with his feet. "It was a speed option play and Donny (Saisbury) made an awesome cut block and I was able to get to the corner," Moe said. "I got a couple great blocks on the play and fortunately, I was able to get in the end zone." As big as Moe's late TD run was for the Lights, the tailback, who rushed for a season-high 69 yards on Saturday, admitted that the decision to go for the score on Hammons' run earlier was big for his team and the Lights' confidence. "In the huddle, we all knew we could get two yards," he said. "None of us had any doubt that we would score, and our offensive line just did a great job on that play. "Coming back the way we did and running the football the way we did just boosts our confidence as an offense." The Lights ran all over the young EOU defense to the tune of the 327 yards and four scores. Hammons led the way with 83 yards and a pair of Tds, including a short run in the first quarter which put the Lights ahead 7-3. Saxton Shearer also game MSU-N a lift on the ground with 69 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown scamper in the final minute of the game. Zach Wermers also ran for 43 yards and Saisbury added 36 on the ground. "I thought all our backs did a great job," Samson said. "And our offensive line was very physical, especially in the second half. "We started out a little slow," he added. "But for the most part, we played really well on both sides of the ball. The effort was really good, and we executed our game plan pretty well. The defense also played really well most of the game. And this is a good win, especially at home because they are a pretty scary team, and they played us extremely hard." Indeed, the Mountaineers didn't look like a five-loss team early on. EOU put together a solid first drive, which led to one of two Thomas Akers field goals. The first one, a 37-yarder put the Mounties up 3-0 and it was set up by a long pass play from freshman quarterback Bradley Padayo to wide receiver James Mayfield. After Hammons' run put the Lights back up, the Mounties took control in the second quarter. EOU turned a Hammons' fumble into two-yard Gavin Smith TD run that put the Mounties ahead 10-7. Then, late in the half, EOU got another break when Hammons was picked off by Josh Geiger with :41 left. Three plays later, Akers connected on a 42-yarder to put the Mounties ahead 13-7, setting up Northern's strong second half. "I think the way we played in the second half gives us a ton of confidence," Moe said. "I mean, as an offense, we know we're capable of going out and scoring points. It's just a matter of being consistent and not making mistakes or getting penalties, and we were able to do that in the second half." Overall, the Lights' offense did excel on Saturday, despite a sluggish passing game. MSU-N threw for just 30 yards and turned the ball over twice, but the running game and the staunch MSU-N defense held EOU in check, especially in the second half. EOU was out-gained by the Lights 328 to 263, despite picking up two more first downs than Northern. Individually, Padayo was up-anddown for the Mounties (0-5, 0-6), but they were able to get some things done on the ground, at least in the first half. "They did move the ball on us some," Samson said. "But for the most part, I thought our defense played really well. We got some key turnovers, and we didn't give up much in the second half. "This was a good win for us," he added. "We still are a work in progress, especially in the passing game, and we have a very physical game against Tech next week. But we feel good about this win, and now we're just going to go back and work hard to get ready for Tech." The Lights (3-2, 4-2) will host Montana Tech on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. Northern beat the Orediggers 20-0 on Sept. 8 in Butte.