George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
One thing that had been missing from the great Montana State University- Northern/Carroll College rivalry had been the big play on offense. And while two great defenses still took center stage on Saturday, the big play also showed up, and while both teams had their share of them, it was the No. 1 Saints who managed to make just enough of them to eek out a 17-10 win over the No. 15 Lights in another classic game between the two schools in Havre on Saturday. Saturday's game was also a tale of two halves with the Lights dominating the first 30 minutes, while the defending national champion Saints put their best foot forward in the latter stages of the game. After a series of turnovers in the first quarter, the Lights struck first and eventually took a 7-3 lead into halftime. However, the Saints, who were clearly outplayed in the first half, especially in the trenches, rebounded with a pair of touchdowns in the second half, both on long drives led by freshman quarterback Dane Broadhead, while the Carroll defense kept Northern out of the endzone the rest of the way. The game, which featured five turnovers in the first 30 minutes, was a topsy- turvy affair from start to finish, and it was just another in a long history of dramatic games between the Lights and Saints. "It was a strange game," MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. "We came out flat in the first quarter but then I thought we picked it up and really started to play well the rest of the half. We did a lot of good things on offense and defense against them. "But it was one of those games," he added. "There were turnovers, big plays, huge plays on both sides of the ball. There were a lot of penalties and mistakes by both teams and it seemed like, because of all of that, the game never really got into a flow. But I'm still proud of our kids. We put a lot into this game, we certainly had this one marked on our calendar and it was hard-fought, emotional football game. It's disappointing to not get it done. But the kids played hard from start to finish, and now we just have to find a way to pick ourselves up and go back to work." Things didn't look good for either team early on. MSU-N opened with turnovers on its first two drives of the game. But Carroll stumbled out of the gates as well. After Carroll picked off Northern quarterback Nick Petrino, Broadhead gave one right back when Landry See jumped a route and picked off Broadhead, taking it all the way inside the Carroll 10-yard-line. The pick was See's second in as many games, and it looked like it was going to give MSU-N a big early lift. However, penalties stalled that drive, and the quarter eventually closed with four turnovers and no points for either team. The second quarter was also upand- down, but with MSU-N's offense moving the ball, and the Lights' defense dominating, as Jared Weigel and Will Andrews harassed Broadhead and his first-half replacement, fellow freshman Matt Ritter, the Lights were in business on their second drive of the quarter. Petrino found Matt Stuart on a 10-yard touchdown pass that was set up by an earlier big play, a fade route to Stuart, as well as key catches by Coda Tchida and Kyle Kercher. The score gave the Lights a 7-0 lead, and it looked like they would take it into the lockeroom until Ritter hit Marshall McEwen, who had a huge game for the Saints, on a 44-yard pass that put Carroll inside the Northern 10. The Lights' defense stood strong and held the Saints to a 31-yard Zach Thiry field goal to make the score 7-3. "I thought our defense came up big in the first half," Samson said. "Jared Weigel played really well. Stetson Koffman also had a great game for us. As a unit we were playing very well. "But in the second half, our offense just didn't have the ball long enough and we maybe wore down a little bit," he added. "Unfortunately, we also lost two starters in the second half, and that hurt us a little bit. But you also have to take your hat off to Carroll. They played a good second half, and they made big plays when they needed them." Indeed, the Saints opened the third quarter with an 11-play, nearly five-minute drive to go ahead 10-7. The drive was capped off by a Travis Browne touchdown catch, and was set up by some solid runs by Gabe Le, who rumbled for 146 yards on the day, most coming in the second half. Despite the march by the Saints, the Lights still had some big plays left in them. Northern started the fourth quarter with a drive that led to a 24-yard Kercher field goal to make the score 10-10. In that drive, Petrino hit Kercher on a key third-down play and Justin Moe, who ran hard for 91 yards on the day, ripped off a 44-yard gain that put the Lights in scoring territory. However, it wasn't quite enough as the Saints had one last march in them. Fullback John Camino took control on the ground in the fourth quarter and Broadhead hit McEwen on several key passes, including a game-winning 3-yard strike with six minutes to go. In the end, Carroll outgained Northern 426-222, but the numbers don't show how well the Lights played on both sides of the ball. Still, penalties and turnovers hurt MSU-N's scoring chances. "Honest to goodness, we said to our kids, Three touchdowns could win this game.’ I’ve been saying it for three years now," Samson said. "And that's about what it would take to win today." Moe came up clutch for the Lights' offense, rushing for 91 yards and catching three balls for 34 yards. Stuart, Kercher and Coda Tchida combined for eight catches, all of them key. Petrino made big plays with his arm, throwing for 209 yards and a score, but Carroll's defense got to him in the second half, and sacks hurt MSU-N's rushing numbers and killed a pair of fourth-quarter drives. Defensively, the Lights got a stellar 15 tackles from Koffman, while Weigel had nine tackles and two sacks. Khalin Anderson also played well, recording 10 tackles on the day. Northern's defense did plenty to slow the Saints down on Saturday, but they still got the big day from Le, while McEwen and Browne were key receivers. Browne led all receivers with eight catches for 101 yards, while McEwen caught three passes for 55 yards. Linebacker Owen Koeppen paced Carroll's stingy defense with 10 tackles and three sacks. "Our defense did a great job in creating turnovers today and that was the big key,” said Carroll head coach Mike Van Diest. Carroll's close win on Saturday puts the Saints in the driver’s seat in the Frontier standings at 3-0 in conference play. Northern is still in good shape at 2-1, but Samson says his team will have to quickly regroup if it wants to keep pace. "I'm proud of what we did today and I believe we are still a very good football team," he said. "Carroll is proud of what they do, too, and this was a battle today. There is a lot of respect on both sides of the field and two very good football teams played a very physical and emotional game today. "We put a lot of effort and emotion into this game and it will be interesting to see how we come back mentally," he added. "We have two tough road games coming up and we're going to have to refocus now. It's not an easy thing to do. I know the kids are disappointed right now, but there is a lot of season left so we have to find a way to bounce back from this." The Lights (2-1, 2-1) will take to the road on Saturday to face the UMWestern Bulldogs in Dillon. Northern also has a road game at Montana Tech on Oct. 4. Quick hits: The Lights lost starting defensive end Will Andrews and linebacker Landry See to injury. Neither player returned for the second half, but Samson said neither injury appeared to be of a serious nature. MSU-N got great contributions from its entire team on Saturday, including most of its former Havre High players. Veterans Weigel, Tchida and Ted Wells all made big plays, while newcomers Chris Buskirk and Kyle Finneman were key on special teams. Saturday's game was the first time in four meetings that either team had scored more than 13 points and it was the first time in six games that both teams reached double digits on the scoreboard. Carroll and Northern meet again on Oct. 25 in Helena.