George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
The last two times the Montana State University-Northern Lights and Rocky Mountain College Battlin' Bears met on a football field, the final score was determined on a crazy final play. Last November, the Bears stunned MSU-N in the final second of a game in Havre when they completed a wild hail-mary pass that resulted in a shocking RMC win. And just last month, the Lights blocked an RMC PAT to win 38-37 in overtime, in what was another crazy ending. So what will the Lights and Bears do for a second encore? That question will be answered on Saturday when the No. 13 Lights (4-1, 4-1) host the Bears (1-4, 2-4) at Blue Pony Stadium with kickoff set for 1 p. m. Northern returns to its home field Saturday fresh off a two-game road trip in which the Lights beat a red-hot UM-Western team in Dillon, and then overcame the loss of quarterback Nick Petrino last Saturday in Butte, still beating Montana Tech 16-9. And as the second half of the Frontier Conference season begins on Saturday with the Lights and Bears doing battle for a second time, quarterback play will be the focal point. Petrino's sprained ankle is still a question mark for the Lights, but he has practiced some this week. And RMC is always about the passing game. The Bears are leading the Frontier in scoring and total offense, and transfer starter Kasey Peters is tops in the league in all passing categories. "Nick was able to do some things on the ankle in practice," MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. "Obviously we didn't do a whole lot with him, but he is feeling better and he was able to get out there and do some things. "As for this game, one thing about our conference is by the second time you see a team, they've seen a lot of film on us, and we've seen a lot of film on them. So unless they (Bears) decide to change a bunch of stuff, we're pretty familiar with what they do and they are familiar with what we do. It makes these games a lot more difficult in a lot of ways." But preparation isn't one of them. MSU-N is fully aware of what the Bears are bringing to Blue Pony Stadium on Saturday a high-flying, wing it as many times as you can, passing attack. Peters leads the NAIA in total offense and passing. So far in his first season at RMC, the junior from Grand Valley State has thrown for 2,108 yards and 19 touchdowns and he's attempted a staggering 304 passes. But Peters isn't the only weapon in the Bears' arsenal. Wide receivers Bryce Burton and Toby Rundle are in the Top 20 in the NAIA and they don't technically start for head coach David Reeves offense. The Bears also have a strong running game with fullback Michael Thomas and tailback Cavan Cooney. "They (Bears) are a good football team offensively," Samson said. "They have a good quarterback, a bunch of good receivers and their backs are good. Their offensive line has improved a lot this season, and the scary things is, I think they are throwing it more now than they did the first time we played them." And the first time the Bears and Lights met, MSU-N gave up over 400 yards of total offense in its narrow Billings escape. However, the Lights are a different team all the way around, and defensively, MSU-N has been dominant since that Sept. 6 win. The Lights are yielding a mere 15 points per game this season, second best in the league, and MSU-N has a Top 20 NAIA defense yet again. And the Lights are leading the league in takeaways. Khalin Anderson and Ted Wells are tied for second in the conference in interceptions with three each, and linebacker Landry See is right behind them with two. Northern's Stetson Koffman is also leading the conference in tackles at 12 per game. "Defensively, we're playing with a lot more confidence then when we went to Billings," Samson said. "We have really played good football defensively since that game. Our guys are prepared and ready for what Rocky will throw at us, but we also know they (Bears) are a team that can move the ball in a hurry, so we're going to have to be at our best on Saturday." The Lights will also have to bring their best offensive game against RMC, even if Petrino is still hobbled by the ankle injury. And one thing MSU-N has been doing well is moving the chains, controlling the clock and giving its defense time to rest. That is in large part due to the play of the Frontier's leading rusher, Justin Moe (108 ypg), as well as the emergence of freshman fullback Tyrell Cochrell, who has over 100 yards rushing and three scores over the last two games. But Samson also sees another reason why his offense is excelling as of late and it's something his team will need to continue to do against RMC's stunting defense. "We have an experienced offensive line and they're playing like it right now," Samson said. "They have done a really good job of picking up blitzes and stunts and right now we're just doing things right on offense. We have a very smart offensive line and its started to show in how we're moving the football lately. The reason I bring that up is because Rocky stunts a lot, and our guys have to be ready for that. And if they (Bears) do something different, we've shown we can adjust on the fly, and we'll do that if they bring different looks this week. "This is another big game for us," Samson added. "We're playing well right now and we feel like we're in a good position at this point in the season. But every game is big and we need to make sure we keep getting better. I know we'll come out and play hard. Our guys always do. But we also want to play well and try to get an important win at home." MSU-N and RMC will kick off at 1 p. m. Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium. The Lights have three of their final five games at home. Quick Hits: Rocky brings a Havre native back home this weekend in true freshman defensive back Taylor Ita. The matchup between the Lights and Bears is one of two deep wide receiver groups. The Bears have four stars in Burton, Rundle, Brian Guisti and Trevor Daer, while the Lights have Coda Tchida, Matt Stuart, Kyle Kercher and Jeff Van Nest, all eight of which are capable of making big plays at any time. Saturday's game could be the first true foul weather game for either team this season. Saturday's forecast calls for a mix of rain and snow with strong winds and temperatures only reaching the low 40s.