Even without a league championship or a playoff berth on the line, there is still plenty of football season left and a lot to play for.
The Montana State University-Northern Lights proved that last week with their 36-33 overtime win over UM-Western.
Now, the Lights (2-4, 2-4) and Montana Tech Orediggers (4-2, 4-3) will do the same Saturday afternoon in Butte.
The Orediggers come into Saturday’s game perhaps on the outside looking in at an NAIA playoff berth after last week’s loss at Eastern Oregon. But that doesn’t mean Tech will give up on its season, even if few three-loss teams have ever received at-large berths to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Lights hit the road Saturday looking to build on the momentum they created in the second half and overtime of last week’s win at Western. It was an exciting game for a Lights’ team who had struggled to find the win column since Aug. 28. Northern had lost four straight before beating the Bulldogs. Included in that streak was a gut-wrenching 17-13 loss at home to Tech.
So not only would the Lights like to atone for the loss to the Orediggers, but MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said his team is truly excited about going to famed Alumni Stadium in Butte, a place the Lights have won in three of their last outings.
“The kids are excited, obviously last week gave us a big lift,” Samson said. “But like I told them this week, I think it’s also exciting to get back out on the road. To go play a road game. It seems like forever since we went on the road, almost like we’ve played at home the entire season. So while we certainly love to play at home, in front of our fans, we’re excited about going out on the road, we’re looking forward to this challenge and in playing in that environment.”
Indeed, the last time the Lights left Havre was Sept. 18 when Northern went to Eastern Oregon. But in this latest road affair, MSU-N will have to contend with a Tech team coming off a bitter loss, as well as a Digger’ offense which averages close to 30 points and 400 total yards of offense. Tech will be without running back Skylar Knuchel, who is out for the season with a knee injury, but quarterback Matt Komac is having a great senior campaign, while the Tech defense is a ball-hawking group which got seven turnovers from the Lights in its win last month in Havre.
Still, even with the turnovers, the Lights had plenty of chances to beat the Orediggers the first time around. And while there’s no question Northern’s defense is playing well, MSU-N’s offense and special teams are also coming into their own. Derek Lear, Orin Johnson and Matt Stuart all had huge hands in helping the Lights eclipse the 400-yard mark against Western, while the Lights were outstanding on special teams with Kyle Kercher booting three field goals, as well as running back Justin Monetelius getting four solo tackles.
“I don’t think anybody has ever had four solo tackles on kickoff before here,” Samson said. “Justin Monetelius is having a really good year for us. He has been very reliable at running back, but what he does for our team on special teams, it’s just hard to really measure how important that is. He had a great game against Western and he’s done that all year for us. Tyson Lucier is another kid who’s just been great all year on special teams. Those guys are really doing a great job.
“And again, we’re excited about this game,” Samson added. “I think the fact that we had chances to win against Tech the first time, even with all the mistakes and turnovers, it gives this team confidence. They know we can beat Tech. We just have to go down there and execute. We have to take care of the ball on offense and do a good job of containing Matt Komac, who’s having a great senior year. Those are keys and if we execute and play good football, we’ll be in good shape.”
The Lights and Orediggers will kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday in Butte. Northern is home for the final time next Saturday when the Lights host Eastern Oregon.