On a beautiful homecoming day at Blue Pony Stadium, things quickly turned disastrous for the Montana State University-Northern football team.
In what turned out to be Northern’s most lopsided defeat in over seven years, the second-ranked Carroll College Saints used two MSU-N turnovers in the first three minutes to catapult themselves to 58 unanswered points and a dominating 65-13 win over the Lights Saturday afternoon in Havre.
MSU-N fumbled the opening kickoff and Carroll was on the board at the 12:58 mark when John Camino smashed his way in from 17 yards out. On Northern’s next series, freshman quarterback Travis Dean threw an interception to Carroll’s Mike Waldenberg, the first of two picks for the Saint’s senior cornerback on the day, and they were in the endzone again just four plays later when former Blue Pony great Gary Wagner threw a 13-yard fade to a diving Corey Peterson.
Less than six full minutes into the game, the Lights had two turnovers and were down 13-0 and those numbers epitomized Northern’s day, and Carroll’s performance.
“Not a lot of positives for us right now,” MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. “We didn’t play well at all in any phase of the game today and we just weren’t ready. That’s my fault, I thought we were well-prepared but that wasn’t the case and that’s my responsibility.
“Just too many mistakes, too many turnovers,” he added. “And they (Saints) are certainly in a class well above us right now.”
In all, the Lights committed five turnovers, losing two fumbles, while Dean, making his first career start for the injured Derek Lear, threw three INT’s.
And Carroll seemed to make Northern pay for every one of them.
“I think we played a pretty consistent football game today,” said Wagner, who was making his final appearance in a storied career at Blue Pony Stadium. “Our defense was just outstanding all day. And I think, when we get rolling like we did today, you get to see what this offense is capable of. We made some big plays today, I had great protection all day from my o-line, those guys played great. So when we’re playing like this, you can see just how effective this offense can be, and it’s a really fun system to play in.”
And the Saints did seem to roll over a Northern defense which came into the game ranked second in the Frontier in rushing, passing and total defense.
Carroll racked up 416 yards of total offense, including 215 on the ground. Malta’s Chance Demarais had 75 yards and a 15-yard TD run, while Camino gained 74 yards and a third-quarter score which put Carroll ahead 51-0. Third-string running back Jeff Deal added 52 yards on the ground for the Saints, and scored twice, including a 16-yard run in the third which capped Carroll’s string of 58 points.
The numbers on MSU-N’s side weren’t so flattering.
The Lights, who came into the game with the No. 2 offense in the Frontier Conference, managed just 88 total yards and five first downs against a dominant Saint’s defense, which is ranked in the top five nationally. The Saints scored 34 points directly off of Northern turnovers, including a 50-yard interception return by Waldenberg in the second quarter.
Wagner was also brilliant on a day when his defense gave him plenty of opportunities to shine in the Blue Pony Stadium sun one last time.
He completed 15-of-18 passes and threw three TD’s against no interceptions. Wagner was not only able to complete a pass, the first ever to his younger brother Billy Wagner on Saturday, but he hit Matt Ritter from 24 yards out and Bubba Bartlett from 11yards for back-to-back scores which put the Saints ahead 44-0 at halftime.
“We certainly didn’t expect to score 44 points in a half,” Carroll head coach Mike Van Diest said. “But we were able to make some plays early. I thought our defense was well-prepared and played really hard right from the start. And we made some plays offensively which really gave us some early momentum.”
Meanwhile, the Lights didn’t cross the 50-yard-line until the third quarter, and they finally got on the board on a bizarre set of circumstances when a botched Carroll snap on a punt went into the endzone and the punter kicked it out. The penalty could have resulted in a safety, but the Lights opted to take the ball on the 10-yard-line and Stephen Silva, who rushed for 35 yards on 11 carries, took it in from nine yards out to make the score 58-6. MSU-N scored again in the fourth quarter when Dean hit Kyle Kercher from 25 yards away.
Dean finished the game with just 39 yards on seven completions. He also rushed for 20 yards, while Kercher led MSU-N’s receivers with two catches for 31 yards.
Jordan Van Voast paced the Northern defense with nine tackles, while Landry See had eight and Casey Varner and Jared Weigel had six each.
“It’s very disappointing right now,” Samson said. “This is the worst since I’ve been here. I thought this program was done with these kinds of games. But we just didn’t play well right from the start. We struggled all day and we continue to kill ourselves with turnovers. You just can’t keep turning it over and expect to win many games in this league.”
The win was Carroll’s (5-0) 37th straight in the Frontier, a streak which dates back to when the Lights bested the Saints 10-7 in October of 2006. For Northern (1-4), it was a fourth straight loss and the Lights’ 11th loss in their last 12 games dating back to last season. Both the Lights and Saints have byes coming up this week.
“The thing of it is, we're not a bad football team,” Samson said of his Lights. “I really believe that. We have a lot of kid splaying really hard and we have talent. But we’re not playing well right now, we’re making too many mistakes and we will use this week off to take a good hard at look at everything, see where we need to make adjustments and evaluate things. The bottom line is, we just have to get better, we have to try to keep our heads up and regroup. We have to regroup and come back ready to play Western in two weeks and try to finish the season strong.”