George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
When two teams meet, both needing a win, anything can happen. Such is the case when the Montana State University-Northern Lights and Montana Tech Orediggers square off in a Frontier Conference football game inside Blue Pony Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Lights (1-3, 2-3) are in unchartered territory, not only having lost two straight games, but they are below .500 for the first time in quite some time. And now they have to try to right the ship against one of their biggest rivals. And while the Orediggers (2-2, 2-3) are coming into Saturday's game with a dominating win over Rocky Mountain College in Billings last Saturday under their belt, they too still have plenty of work to do if they want to have the kind of season they were hoping for in Butte. Tech is in third place in the Frontier Conference and just 2-3 overall, and the Orediggers were hoping to prove last year's four-win campaign was just an aberration. "They (Orediggers) are a pretty darn-good football team," MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. "I don't think their overall record really re- flects the kind of team they are, and we know that. We know we've got a really good opponent coming in here this weekend, and we understand we are going to have to play a lot better than we've been playing in order to be successful." Playing better is of the highest priority for an MSU-N team which is returning to Havre after a bitter 45-14 setback last weekend at Eastern Oregon. But it wasn't just the problems at EOU which have the Lights backsliding. In their last two games combined, MSU-N has committed 12 turnovers, including eight interceptions, and the Lights are dead last in the Frontier in turnover margin. If Northern is going to remedy what has been ailing it the last two weeks, it will start with taking care of the football this week against a solid Montana Tech defense which ranks first against the rush, second in scoring and second in total defense. The Diggers have outstanding linebackers like Paul Klaboe, Joel Wilson and Malta's Skippy Simms, as well as a strong secondary led by safeties Jake Stagnoli and Scott Gerken. "Defensively, they've (Orediggers) been pretty impressive this season," Samson said. "They have a good sized front seven, and they are really strong against the run. They just seem to play really sound defensive football." And although Tech is stout against the run, the Lights would love to get their running game going on Saturday. Ty Cochrell leads the Frontier in rushing at just over 90 yards per game, while freshman Stephen Silva is among the top players in the league in all-purpose yardage. And with turnovers having plagued the Lights the last two weeks, as well as a young-but-improving MSU-N defense having been on the field for over 90 plays last week at EOU, sustaining drives, making first downs and controlling the time of possession this week would suit Samson just fine. "I think it's really important for us to establish ourselves early on offense," Samson said. "We need to move the ball, put some good drives together and get our confidence back offensively. If we have to do that through a ball-control type of game, then that's what we need to do." And when Tech is on offense, the Lights will generally know what to expect from a hard-nosed Bob Green coached team. The Orediggers have, as usual, a strong running game with Skylar Knuchel, the Frontier's third-leading rusher, and the biggest offensive line in the conference. As a team, the Orediggers average 166 yards on the ground, second only to league-leading Carroll College. But the wildcard in the Tech offense is junior quarterback Matt Komac. The Helena native struggled with interceptions a year ago, but is third in the Frontier in total offense this season. Still, he has thrown six INTs against eight touchdowns this year. And Komac will likely be without one of his favorite targets in wide receiver J.T. McIntyre, who looks to be out with an injury. Still, the Lights' defense will have their hands full with the Tech offense, especially considering MSU-N is even more thin on defense than it was a week ago. The Lights have likely lost starting defensive lineman Guy Hamm, the fifth starter or projected starter MSU-N has lost on defense this season, making an already young an inexperienced defense that much more so. But despite all of that, Samson knows what happened last week or the week before that is something a football team can't get back, and all he and his Lights are concerned about is the present and that means a rivalry game against the Orediggers a team the Lights have beaten five out of the last six meetings, including a 35-3 win against Tech to close last season out in Havre. "We've had some success against them (Orediggers) in the past," Samson said. "But this is a different Tech team and we fully expect them to come in here and play very well against us. "And we haven't played very well the last few weeks," he added. "But that's in the past. Somehow, we've got to fire this football team up, come out and find a way to play well against them (Orediggers) and rally and get a win on Saturday. That's what we have to do." Saturday's game between MSU-N and Montana Tech will kick off at 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The game is the first of two straight home contests for the Lights.