George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
Almost four weeks of practice with all types of scenarios and even more up and down weather culminated with the Montana State University-Northern football team ending spring drills with one final, successful scrimmage. On Friday night at Blue Pony Stadium, the Lights and head coach Mark Samson ran a 75-play scrimmage that saw the Lights' offense score three times, while a new-look MSU-N defense also held its own. "There were bright spots on both sides of the ball," Samson said. "For the most part, I was really pleased with the way our first-team offense and our first-team defense played. "We scored three touchdowns, we made some big plays and we kicked well," he added. "And our defense, which is pretty thin right now, had their best day out of the four scrimmages we've had. So I was pretty happy with how things went." One of MSU-N's main concerns heading into last season was replacing three-year starting quarterback Kyle Samson. But after the Lights went 6-5 in 2007, this spring didn't seem to present any quarterback issues as sophomore Jeff Van Nest, who started two games for the Lights a year ago, had a solid spring after recovering from a foot and leg injury he suffered in the third game of the 2007 season. On Friday night, Van Nest led the Lights on three scoring drives and threw a pair of TD passes, while back- field mates Justin Moe, Ty Cochrell and Andrew Mosby all made big plays in the running game. "I think our offense is well ahead of where we were a year ago or even where we were going into last fall," Samson said. "Jeff has played pretty well this spring and I am really pleased with our top three running backs. So after this last scrimmage, I feel really good about where our offense is at right now." Friday night's scrimmage also saw MSU-N excel on the defensive side of the ball, as well as on special teams. Northern's defense will certainly have plenty of new faces after graduation took the likes of All-American defensive back Marc Samson, as well as All-Conference players like Kennedy Anderson, Dilan Saisbury and others. Still, the Lights first unit created three turnovers on Friday night, with sophomore defensive back Casey Varner and sophomore linebacker Ryne Nelson each coming away with an interception. The Lights also recovered one fumble, while Stetson Koffman, Jared Weigel and Will Andrews paced the Lights in tackles. Andrews also recorded two quarterback sacks on the night. "We still have some concerns heading into the fall on defense," Samson said. "We just have so many kids playing new positions and some new faces on defense that things are still up in the air a little bit. We are also pretty banged up on that side of the ball. "But I was really pleased with how they played in the last scrimmage," he added. "Stetson Koffman, Jared Weigel and Will Andrews all really moved around the field and played well. And Casey Varner had a really good spring for us. There are still some concerns there, but I was pretty pleased with how the defense progressed this spring." The scrum also saw kickers Luke McKinley and Kyle Kercher kick the ball well, and this spring allowed Northern to create some depth on special teams, as well as get younger players some much-needed time on the field. The Lights will now head into the offseason, but fall camp opens in early August as MSU-N prepares to open the 2008 season on Sept. 6 at Rocky Mountain College. "I feel really good about where we're at, and especially what we accomplished this spring," Samson said. "We're definitely ahead of where we were at this time last year, and with the recruiting class we have coming in the fall, I like the direction that this team is headed in. "It was a good scrimmage and the kids all played really hard," he added. "And we've had a really good offseason and a good spring, so I'm excited about the team we'll have heading into the fall."