George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
With just one game left for each of the six Frontier Conference football teams, it's time to start closing the books on another season for several schools. But for some, it's also time to look ahead. And that starts with the Montana State University-Northern Lights (6-3), who certainly aren't looking past their final opponent of the season, the Montana Tech Orediggers (4-6). The Lights and Orediggers meet in a special Friday night game at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre, and while two weeks ago, many would have rendered the game meaningless, it appears that it's anything but. There are rumblings around the country and on the internet message boards that with a win over Tech, there are scenarios in which the Lights could still gain an at-large berth in the NAIA playoffs, something many thought went out the window when Northern dropped back-to-back road games at Eastern Oregon and Carroll College. But rest assured, the Lights are only thinking about Tech, arguably the Frontier's hottest team over the last month. The Orediggers started 1-4, but have rebounded and lost just once since the Lights beat them back 16-9 back on Oct. 4 in Butte. Since that time, the Orediggers have gone 4-1 even without star running back Drew Savage, and their only loss came in the final minutes against No. 1 Carroll last Saturday in Butte. Tech's defense has improved dramatically over the last month, and now, the Orediggers are barely surrendering 20 points per game. They have all-conference candidates in defensive end Britt Siddoway and linebacker Billy Glennon, as well as safety Cole Salo. Northern has a few statistical giants as well. With his 161 yards in a 38-28 win over UM-Western at home, MSU-N senior Justin Moe needs just 11 yards to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Moe has been a workhorse for the Lights this season, averaging around 25 carries per game. On defense, junior linebacker Stetson Koffman is having an All-American campaign with his 119 total tackles, which is third-best in all of NAIA football. Western linebacker Chad Schira is just behind Koffman with 116 tackles. Northern also is tops in the league in takeaways, especially after its five INTs on Saturday. Khalin Anderson is tied for the league lead with five picks, and senior Ted Wells grabbed his fourth INT of the season on Saturday. While Northern isn't looking past Tech on Friday night, it's certainly ok to look ahead of you're a Carroll fan. The Saints (10-0) wrap up their regular season with a home game against pesky EOU (4-5) Saturday in Helena, and then will await the announcement of their first-round playoff opponent. Carroll, which beat EOU 44-10 last month in LaGrande, could face Dickinson State or possibly Minot State in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 22 in Helena, as the Saints begin their march towards defending their NAIA championship. Saturday is also big for the Mountaineers, who under first-year head coach Tim Camp, are looking for a .500 season, which would be a big step. EOU still has a nonconference game with rival Southern Oregon next week, but an upset of the No. 1 Saints would give the young Mounties, and their possible all-conference freshman quarterback Chris Ware a definite building block for next season. In Dillon, Saturday's game between Western (2-8) and Rocky Mountain College (3-8), will be for last place in the Frontier, something both teams are all too familiar with in recent memory. Interestingly, both the Bulldogs and Bears have had their shining moments this season, but the two teams come into Saturday's tilt on the two longest losing streaks in the league this season. The game will also feature a matchup of quality quarterbacks. Western's Garrett Graves, who started the first game of the year, only to give way to Micah Mamiya, is back on the field and he threw for 366 yards in the loss at Northern last week. Meanwhile, RMC's Kasey Peters is trying to lock up the Frontier's offensive MVP. Peters leads the NAIA in most passing categories, and had a big day the last time the Bears and Bulldogs met. As a side note, the NAIA's 16-team playoff bracket should be released sometime on Sunday afternoon. Fans can check www.naia.org for more information.