George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
The Montana State University- Northern football team is 1-0. And it took everything the Lights had, including a blocked kick in overtime of their season-opening game at Rocky Mountain College to get there. In Billings last week, the Bears threw the preverbal kitchen sink at Northern, and now the Lights, and head coach Mark Samson are preparing for the same thing when an upand- coming Eastern Oregon University team visits Blue Pony Stadium on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the Lights 2008 home opener. "This isn't the same Eastern Oregon team that people who follow the Frontier Conference are used to seeing," Samson said. "They have changed their offense, they are playing really well and they have a lot of weapons on both sides of the ball. It's going to be a tough football game." EOU hasn't won in Havre since it joined the Frontier Conference, and the Mounties haven't won many Frontier games overall. But new head coach Tim Camp, who re-vamped the EOU offense from its traditional Winged-T option attack to more of a conventional spread passing game, has the Mounties riding high after a 38-28 home win over nationallyranked Montana Tech last Saturday in LaGrande, Ore. The win opened the eyes of the rest of the league, and although Northern was never overlooking the Mounties, the victory over Tech gave the Lights plenty to think about. "They are a concern, especially on offense," Samson said. "They have a new offense, a lot of new athletes and against Tech, the got off to a really fast start. They are a dangerous football team and they are coming to our place with a lot of confidence right now. "But I feel like we had a really solid week of practice," he added. "I know we're ready for this game and I think you'll see our football team improve and play much better than we did in the first game." And in order to get by EOU, the Lights will have to do just that. With EOU's offense looking as sharp as it ever has, MSU-N's defense will have to come to play. In its 38-37 overtime win over RMC, Northern gave up over 400 yards of total offense and Bears' running back Michael Thomas gashed the Lights for 100-plus yards on the ground. However, the MSU-N defense did come up with a couple of critical turnovers and several key stops in the fourth quarter, while Will Andrews (2 sacks), Stetson Koffman (16 tackles) and Khalin Anderson (interception) all had big games on that side of the ball, as did defensive back Jhevon McMillan, who blocked RMC's PAT in overtime to give the Lights the season-opening win. Now the MSU-N defense will get tested by EOU's new-look offense. True freshman quarterback Chris Ware accounted for 267 of Eastern's 362 total yards in its win over Tech. Ware threw for 234 yards and rushed for 33 more, and more importantly, a pair of touchdowns. The Mounties have a capable group of wide receivers in their new passing game, and a stable of running backs who also get involved in that aspect of their offense. "It was just one game, but their offense looked pretty sharp," Samson said of the Mounties. "The quarterback is very athletic and does some really good things. "But I thought we did some very good things against Rocky's offense, especially in the second half," he added. "We're a young football team and we're still a work in progress, but I think our defense was consistent last week and they got better as the game went along." As expected, the Lights' offense is a work in progress too. But it did the necessary things to get the Lights a win in Billings. Freshman quarterback Nick Petrino managed his first game well, and senior Justin Moe and junior Coda Tchida played like veterans. Moe ran all over the Bears to the tune of 161 yards and three scores, while Tchida caught four passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. The Lights' offensive line, a veteran group, also played well in Billings. "Again, we did some good things against Rocky at times. I thought Justin (Moe) and our running game looked very good for the most part." Samson said. "I don't think our passing game is where it needs to be right now, but a lot of that is just game experience. The more live reps Nick (Petrino) gets, the more comfortable he will get. But I expect us to be much more consistent on offense this week. We've looked sharp in practice and I think you'll see us improve there too." At stake this week is a 2-0 start in the conference for either the Lights or the Mounties. In a season of uncertainty in the Frontier, that jump on the rest of the field, and an opportunity to stay with No. 1 Carroll College at the head of the pack in the league looms large. "Every game is big and that's why we really always focus on who's right in front of us," Samson said. "This is a good football team coming in here to play us and we've worked really hard this week to prepare for them. "I do know that our kids will play very hard and they have been looking forward to this game," he added. "They want to play well at home in front of their fans, and I think they are more than ready to go." The Lights and EOU kick off at 1 p. m. at Blue Pony Stadium on Saturday. The game can be heard locally on 92. 5 FM KPQX. Quick kicks: EOU has no players form the state of Montana on its roster while the Lights have five players from the state of Oregon on its current roster. The Mounties have a potential All-American kicker in junior Thomas Akers, who booted two long field goals against the Lights last year. However, Northern's freshman kicker, Kyle Kercher was the special teams player of the week in the Frontier Conference after kicking five PAT's and a 27-yard, game-tying field goal last Saturday at RMC.