George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
HELENA Stephen Silva gave the Montana State University-Northern football team the momentum it was looking for Saturday afternoon. But as fast as Silva gave momentum to the Lights, Gary Wagner and the Carroll College Fighting Saints took it all away. Carroll responded to Silva’s MSUN record, second-half-opening 96-yard kickoff return by scoring 37 unanswered points as the No. 2 Saints routed the No. 18 Lights 50-13 Saturday at Nelson Stadium in Helena. After Northern played a valiant first half of football, Silva electrified the large MSU-N contingent by taking the opening kick of the third quarter back for the longest kickoff return in Northern history to tie the game at 13- 13. But Wagner, who threw two firsthalf interceptions, responded by throwing back-to-back touchdown passes in the next five minutes of the third quarter the first, a 35-yard strike to Christian Prosperie to put the Saints up 20-13. And just four minutes later, the former Havre High star hit Corey Peterson for the second time on the day to put Carroll ahead 27-13. Wagner also got Carroll on the board early in the first quarter with a 65-yard bomb to Peterson. “I made some bad reads in the first half, those interceptions were all my responsibility,” Wagner, the twotime Class A All-State Blue Pony said. “And I think we were pretty sluggish in the first half. They (Lights) came out and played us tough and we didn’t expect anything less from them. They are a great program. But I was really pleased with the way we played in the third quarter.” Indeed, after Wagner’s third TD of the day, the nightmare was just getting started for MSU-N. Down 27-13, the Lights committed the first of three straight turnovers, and Carroll scored off two of them. After an MSU-N fumble deep in Saint’s territory, Matt Ritter scored on a run out of Carroll’s “wildcat” formation, the second TD on the day for Ritter. Then, on MSU-N’s ensuing possession, the Lights fumbled again, and just minutes later, after finally getting a stop on defense, Carroll’s punt bounced off a Northern player and the Saints recovered yet again. The miscue led to a 43-13 lead when Carroll sophomore Dane Broadhead hit Casey Lamping for a 13-yard scoring strike. The final nail in the game was a 39-yard TD run by Jeff Deal with 11:01 left in the fourth quarter. “First, you can’t do what we did and expect to compete in a game like this,” MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. “You can’t turn the ball over three times like that against Carroll and expect to have a chance. They are too good of a team, and they made us pay for our mistakes. “This is also about the third game in a row where I felt like we played a very good first half of football against them (Saints),” he added. “But then, for whatever reason, we just come out flat in the second half. Even with the kickoff return we were just really flat in the third quarter, and we just didn’t get anything going. And that’s been happening to us a lot against them lately.” What made Saturday’s outcome so tough on the Lights is the fact they did play such a solid defensive first half. Despite being thin on defense, the most recent loss, senior All-American linebacker Stetson Koffman to a seasonending knee injury, the Lights forced Carroll into three first-half turnovers two interceptions by Wagner and a fumbled kickoff return deep in Northern territory. But MSU-N's offense struggled to capitalize on the Carroll miscues as the Lights only got three points off those turnovers, the second of two field goals in the first quarter. “Our defense played great in the first half,” Samson said. “They gave us great opportunities to score and we just didn’t take advantage. You have to give Carroll credit for that too, they obviously are very good defensively. But we went into the red zone six times in the first half and only got six points. You have to do better than that if you want to be successful.” Northern’s offense did move the ball well in the first half at times. But when the Lights got close to the goal line, the Carroll defense stiffened. The Lights responded to Carroll’s first strike by marching all the way to the Carroll 5-yard-line, getting a 22-yard Kyle Kercher field goal to pull within four points at 7-3. Then, MSU-N’s Brandon Grote recovered the ensuing fumbled kickoff, but the Lights could only come away with three more points, a 41-yard Kercher field goal. Ritter would add a rushing touchdown in the second quarter to put the Saints ahead 13-6 at halftime, before Silva’s kick return sparked Northern, then sparked Carroll to run away with the game. In all, after quarterback sacks and penalties, the Lights amassed just 96 yards of total offense, six on the ground. Senior quarterback Jeff Van Nest was hounded all day by Carroll’s front seven and was sacked numerous times in the second half. He went just 9-of-26 passing for 85 yards. But Northern’s inability to run the football, especially in the second half, along with the costly turnovers, was its undoing. The Lights got 39 yards from Ty Cochrell and 23 from Van Nest, but MSU-N netted just six yards on the day. And after not committing a turnover in the first six quarters of their 2009 campaign, the Lights gave the ball away four times in the second half of Saturday’s loss. Meanwhile, the Saints were balanced, as per usual. They rolled up 500 yards of offense, including 226 in the air and 274 on the ground. Carroll’s rushing attack was a who’s who of ball carriers, as Gabe Le rushed for 65 yards, John Camino went for 55, Chance Demaris had 54 and Deal added 52. Wagner threw for 209 yards and three scores, and the junior, who came back from a season-ending leg injury a year ago, has already thrown eight TD passes in two games this season. “I think we did a really good job of executing in the second half,” Wagner said. “The offensive line deserves a lot of credit, they really blocked well in both the passing and the running game, and the defense did an amazing job. Northern is a very good team, but our defense played great today and gave us the ball back and gave us chances to put points on the board in the second half and our receivers were able to get open and I had some time and was able to find them. "This win gives us a lot of confi- dence for the rest of the season," he added. "Especially because of how well we played in the second half.” Carroll improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in Frontier Conference play, while the Lights dipped to 1-1 and 0-1 in league play. And while Samson was disappointed in his team’s second-half performance on Saturday, he was well aware of the fact there is plenty of time to recover. “We didn’t play well at all today, especially offensively,” Samson said. “I was proud of our effort in the first half, we did play hard. But we have a lot to work on. And you have to give them (Saints) credit. They are a very, very good football team and they showed it today. “I still think we are a good football team too,” he added. “But we have a lot of work ahead of us. It’s a long season, and this game won’t break our year. We just have to find a way to put it behind us and go forward and get better.” Next up for the Lights is their home opener Saturday against Rocky Mountain College. Northern and RMC will kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre.