George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Just a little over two years ago, Blue Pony Stadium was the sight of one of the most historic wins in Montana State University-Northern football history. In 2006, the Lights stunned then No. 1 Carroll College 10-3, stopping a remarkable Carroll wining streak that had spanned almost three seasons. And while the Carroll/Northern rivalry has blossomed out of that amazing October day, the Lights haven't beaten the Saints since. But on Saturday, MSU-N will get another chance to stop an 18-game Carroll winning streak when the No. 1 Saints and No. 15 Lights hook up at 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. And Saturday's game won't just be another game in a heated series or Northern trying to win on homecoming. At stake is plenty more. The winner of Saturday's game will have a leg up in the conference standings with both teams coming in a perfect 2-0 in league play. And the road to the Frontier Conference title, and an automatic bid to the NAIA playoffs could likely come down to the two games between the Lights and Saints. A conference title is certainly MSU-N's goal, as it always is Carroll's. "Everybody knows that to win a Frontier title you have to go through Carroll," MSU-N junior wide receiver Coda Tchida said. "And since I've been here, that's always been our goal, to win the conference championship. So we really get up to play them, you have to because you're trying to take what they have. "This is always a big game for us," he added. "The coaches always emphasize how important this game is and they do a great job of getting us ready to play them." Of course being ready is only the half the battle. In recent years, the MSU-N/Carroll game has been about one word defense. Last year, the two teams met twice, and the Saints won both games by the same score of 10-3 en route to their fifth NAIA national championship in six years. In 2007 Carroll and MSU-N were the top two defenses in the league, and both teams have picked up right where they left off, meaning Saturday's tilt should be another rough, physical, and possibly low-scoring game. "We're excited about this game and we will be prepared," MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. "Carroll is still Carroll. They have a great defense and we know what to expect when we play them. It's a matter of everybody stepping up and playing well at the right time. Hopefully, we can do that on Saturday." Carroll comes in yielding just 14 points per game, tops in the Frontier. The Saints were the top defensive team in the NAIA a year ago, and appear to have not missed a beat despite losing six seniors from last year's defense. The linebackers are the heart of the Carroll defense this season, led by NAIA All- American Owen Koeppen, as well as standout Brandon Day. The emergence of junior Rick Young has also made Carroll as stingy as ever. However, MSU-N will counter Carroll's defense just as it has done in years past. The Lights were dominant in their home-opening win last Saturday, a 24-7 victory over Eastern Oregon. MSU-N limited the Mountaineers to less than 200 yards of offense and eight first downs. The Lights also got five turnovers, including three interceptions. Like Carroll, MSU-N's linebackers are a big piece of the puzzle. Last week, freshman Landry See had a big game, and through just two games, junior Stetson Koffman is leading the Frontier in tackles. But Northern's front four might be the key to stopping the Saints on Saturday. Defensive ends Jared Weigel and Will Andrews have been wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks, while tackles Garrett Glasrud and Jeff Mahana are consistent run stoppers. "We know they have a great defense," Carroll wide receiver Travis Browne said. "They scheme really well for us. As an offense, we expect this to be another hard-fought game, with two great defenses going at it. This game might come down to one big play on offense or on special teams. But hopefully, we'll be ready. We've been playing pretty well offensively and hopefully that will continue." While big offensive numbers have been hard to come by in recent Northern/ Carroll games, Saturday's clash will have a different look on that side of the ball. Two new quarterbacks will play their first-ever game in the heated rivalry, and that should make for an interesting twist to the plot. Carroll will trot out true freshman Dane Broadhead, who will make his second-career start after junior Gary Wagner went down with a broken leg on Sept. 6 in Dillon. Broadhead has played well so far despite his youth and inexperience. Last week, in a route against Rocky Mountain College, he was effi- cient to say the last, throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions. Of course, he has help with a pair of talented running backs in Sean Herrin and Gabe Le, and perhaps the top wide receiver in the Frontier in Browne. "They've looked good offensively so far this season," Samson said. "The quarterback has done a good job of coming in and making plays. "But I feel really good about our defense, especially the way they played against Eastern Oregon. It's going to be a tough task to shut them (Saints) down. But I have a lot of confidence in our defense and all of our players. I know they'll come out and play hard the entire game." Meanwhile, MSU-N's Nick Petrino will make his first start against Carroll, a program that is part of his family's legacy. Petrino had a strong second half last week against EOU and appears to be gaining confidence with every snap. Northern also has the benefit of a veteran offensive line and the Frontier's leading rusher in senior Justin Moe. And the Lights will need all of their offensive weapons against a Carroll defense that has limited MSU-N to a combined 13 points in the last three meetings dating back to a 2006 NAIA playoff game in Helena. But with any rivalry, each game is different, and each game takes on a life of its own. There is no arguing that Northern has had more success, win or lose, against the Saints than any other team in the Frontier over the last three seasons. And the Lights will be hoping that trend continues on Saturday, especially the part about winning. "I think we have had a great week of practice," MSU-N senior cornerback Khalin Anderson said. "We are really focused right now and we're going into this game with a lot of confidence. It will be a great football game and we feel like we match up with them (Saints) very well. We like our chances." The Lights (2-0, 2-0) and Saints (2-0, 3-0) will kick off at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium. The game is part of Northern's 2008 homecoming celebration, and it can also be heard locally on 92.5 FM KPQX. Quick hits: The Saints have two local players on their current roster. Wagner, a former Havre High standout is out for the season with a broken leg, and former Chester/J-I three-sport star Tyler Han is a freshman quarterback at Carroll. Northern has six former Helena preps on its active roster. Over the last five meeting between MSU-N and Carroll, neither team has one by more than 13 points, and in three of the last five meetings, the final score has been 10-3. Kickers have always played a large role in the game. Carroll has a great kicker/punter in Zach Thiry, while the Lights are kicking by committee. Included in the rotation in Havre punter Kyle Finneman, who boomed a pair of great punts last week against EOU. A sell out crowd is expected for Saturday's game, and weather forecasts call for sunny skies, moderate winds and a high of 70 degrees at kickoff.