Dillon is a long ways south of Havre and the campus of Montana State University-Northern. But with how the close the season-opening game between the MSU-Northern Lights and Western Bulldogs is, it might as well be just down the street.
But before the Lights travel to Western for Saturday's Frontier Conference opener, they still have work to do. And a good portion of that work came last Thursday when MSU-N went head-to-head in its second scrimmage of fall camp.
"We executed really well on offense," MSU-N offensive coordinator Kyle Samson said. "And we had a lot of big plays."
Indeed, both the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense stood tall in Thursday night's scrum at the Northern practice fields.
Northern's veterans on defense are starting to show they are ready for the regular season, as evidenced by how they played on Thursday. Former Blue Pony Jared Weigel had a big night with six total tackles and two tackles for loss. Fellow defensive end Will Andrews had two sacks for the No. 1 defense. Sophomore Wade Kelly, Northern's top returning tackler, had two pass breakups in the secondary and Sean Thorton was stuffing the run from his defensive tackle position.
While the MSU-N defense looks to be rounding into form, the Lights' offense has had its moments in camp as well, and Thursday night was no different.
The Northern offense ran a total of 49 plays for 560 yards and seven scores.
Starting quarterback Derek Lear threw three TD passes, going 5-for-6 for 127 yards. True freshman Travis Dean from Gilbert, Ariz., also looked sharp, completing six passes for 152 yards and two scores. Havre High standout C.J. Evans also got reps at quarterback, throwing for 79 yards on seven completions.
On the receiving end of the passing brigade were veterans Matt Stuart and Kyle Kercher, as well as transfer speedster Brandon O'Brien. Stuart had huge plays, catching just three balls for 94 yards and two scores, while O'Brien also ran free, snagging two grabs for 71 yards, including a 60-yard TD. Kercher also had a touchdown, while newcomer Brandt Montelius had three catches for 49 yards, and Cut Bank freshman Orin Johnson hauled in a 25-yard touchdown reception.
Thursday's scrimmage showed Northern's receivers, veterans and youngsters alike, are looking sharp in preseason. And so is MSU-N's running game.
Behind a strong-looking offensive line, sophomore Stephen Silva racked up 110 yards on just three carries on Thursday night, and he added a 42-yard screen pass to his night. Converted running back Justin Montelius added 61 yards on the ground and star fullback James Chandless added a goaline score for the Lights.
"Both sets of the offense and defense played very well," Samson said.
With a successful scrimmage behind them, the Lights start their first game-week of the season today. MSU-N had Saturday off, but got back to work on Sunday in preparation for its season-opener Saturday. The Lights and Bulldogs kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday in Dillon.
MSU-N Scrimmage No. 2
Rushing — Chandless 4-24, Silva 3-110, Montelius 4-61, Evans 5-0, Wilson 3-1, Hale 1-0, Johnson 1-11, Lauderdale 1-2.
Passing — Lear 5-6-127-3, Dean 6-9-152-2, Evans 7-12-72-0.
Receiving — Stuart 3-94, O'Brien 2-71, Kercher 4-47, B. Montelius 3-49, Silva 1-42, Miller 3-23, Johnson 1-25, Wilson 1-0.