As Saturday’s Frontier Conference football game at Blue Pony Stadium between MSU-Northern and Montana Tech went on, defensive backs must have been salivating.
The Lights and Orediggers combined to throw seven interceptions in Tech’s 17-13 win, and neither Northern head coach Mark Samson, nor Tech head coach Bob Green, who is in his 24th season, has seen such a game.
“It was one of those things, it’s crazy and you don’t ever expect a game like this to happen,” Green said. “Our turnovers, you have to give a lot of credit to Northern’s defense for them. They have great players, they were able to get some pressure on us and we made a few bad throws. It happens, it’s tough, and credit Northern’s defense, they played really well today.”
As tough as it was for MSU-N to struggle with seven turnovers on offense, the play that perhaps epitomized Saturday’s crazy affair came inside of three minutes in the first quarter.
The Lights had Tech pinned deep after Tech had just recovered an MSU-N fumble as the Lights were threatening to score. That’s when MSU-N junior Jared Weigel, who had two sacks on the day, stripped Tech quarterback Matt Komac and picked up the ball, headed for the end zone, then was stripped by Tech’s Craig Halko. The Orediggers recovered and took back possession after two fumbles in less than three seconds.
The Brothers Interception
Tech’s Jordan Herringer and Jake Stagnoli had two picks each Saturday, but it was the Varner brothers who once again helped MSU-N’s astounding takeaway rate after just two games.
Senior safety Casey Varner intercepted Komac, his fourth pick of the season. Freshman corner Tanner Varner had a great pick on a deep sideline route later in the game, his second of the year. Casey Varner had three picks two weeks ago at Western, while Tanner also picked off a pass in that same game. The brothers from Baker, who are starting in the defensive backfield together for the first time, now have a combined six thefts on the season.
Coming of age
MSU-N redshirt freshman Orin Johnson is showing he can be a weapon for the Lights for years to come. Johnson is a Cut Bank prep star, like his senior mentor Matt Stuart, and he’s doing a little bit of everything for the Lights.
In Northern’s season-opener in Dillon, Johnson not only played receiver and returned punts, but was the quarterback in MSU-N’s “wildcat” formation.
Johnson gave the Lights a big boost on Saturday when he caught his first career touchdown pass in the third quarter. He finished the game with two catches for 27 yards, including his 16-yard TD catch which pulled the Lights to within one point at 14-13.
The Lights won’t look for moral victories after Saturday’s loss, especially when they came so close to beating the Orediggers in their home opener. But the MSU-N defense can take plenty of positives away from its performance.
Included in that was the fact Tech only gained 31 net yards on the ground, and less than 200 yards of total offense. The rushing totals were helped by MSU-N’s aggressive play on defense, especially Weigel, Will Andrews and Travis Hjort, who all had sacks or tackles-for-loss Saturday.
But MSU-N’s entire defense, including linebackers Landry See, A.J. Pasalo and Jordan Van Voast were responsible for making sure Tech didn’t repeat last year’s performance on the Blue Pony Stadium turf. The Orediggers rolled up over 300 yards on the Lights on the ground last fall in Havre, but on Saturday, the Lights held Skylar Knuchel, the 2009 Frontier rushing leader to just 58 yards. And Drew Savage, who came into the game averaging 85 yards per game, got just eight yards on four carries.
“I thought we did some really good things on defense,” Northern head coach Mark Samson said. “We did a great job of stopping the run. There’s no question our defense is playing well right now, and it showed because this is a team (Tech) that scored 39 points last week.”
A bright future
It wasn’t the day Northern‘s freshman quarterback was hoping to have, but he’s an extreme talent, and there will be plenty of good days to come. And although he struggled at times on Saturday, he still showed flashes of the kind of play Northern fans can look forward to seeing for the next four years.
And he drew the attention of Green, a man who has seen plenty of quarterbacks come and go in the Frontier Conference.
“Derek Lear is going to be special,” Green said. “He’s growing by leaps and bounds. He’s young, he’ll make mistakes, all young quarterbacks do. But I’m really impressed with what he can do with the football. The kid can make plays.”