It's hard to find moral victories in what happened to the Montana State University-Northern Lights Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
The Lights got victory snatched from them when it looked like a sure thing as Eastern Oregon came back to win 39-36.
But in looking at the first half performance by Northern quarterback Derek Lear, it's hard not to think of what the Lights will look like a year from now and even farther.
Lear was a highly sought after Frontier Conference recruit coming out of Class B Fairfield in both football and basketball. And a he's proving he was a big get for the Lights.
There's no question he's had his ups and downs in his first year as a starter, but what he did in the first 30 minutes of Saturday's game was nothing short of remarkable.
In just his eighth game of his career, Lear, who's had a concussion and a shoulder injury this season, threw for 270 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, all in one half of football.
Yes, there were the down times Saturday, as Lear threw a pair of picks, including a game-ending one on EOU's goal line, but there's no question that with Lear at the helm, Northern's offense was not only explosive Saturday, but has a chance to be for years to come.
Senior Day Impact
Several Lights who were playing their final game at Blue Pony Stadium went out in style Saturday afternoon.
Matt Stuart had another monstrous day for the Lights, catching eight passes for over 100 yards and two scores. But Stuart wasn't alone.
Seth Wildung, who is graduating from MSU-N this year, intercepted two passes to give him an MSU-N best six picks for the season, while senior defensive tackle Jeff Mahana had four stops and was instrumental in helping bottle up EOU's Kevin Sampson, the Frontier Conference's leading rusher in the first half.
Stuart and Mahana, like fellow senior Casey Varner have played a lot of games for the Lights in Blue Pony Stadium, as has Wildung. And while Saturday's loss was a bitter pill to swallow, all of them left it all on the field one last time at home and all of them, as well as the rest of Northern's graduating players will surely be missed.
MSU-Northern freshman Brandon O'Brien had his first big game since he made a sparkling debut for the Lights with two touchdowns in Northern's season-opening win at UM-Western back on Aug. 28.
Until Saturday' O'Brien had been slowed by a nagging foot injury, but he looked back to his speedy self against the Mounties.
O'Brien raced past the EOU defense on his way to a 55-yard touchdown reception at the start of the second quarter. Then, just when it looked like the Lights were going to take a 27-7 lead into the lockerroom, O'Brien turned on the jets again, catching a 43-yard pass from Lear to put Northern up 34-7 at intermission.
For whatever reason, and while it's not by much, Eastern Oregon has MSU-N's number right now.
The Mounties have beaten the Lights five straight times, including twice this season. And while both EOU wins this year came by a combined seven points, it's still a winning streak the Mounties will carry into the 2011 campaign.
And they are doing it in thrilling fashion.
EOU had to mount a second-half charge to beat the Lights Saturday, just like the Mounties had did back in LaGrande, Ore., last month.
This season alone, the two teams have combined for almost 1,600 yards of offense and an amazing 171 points.
If those kinds of trends continue, the EOU/Northern rivalry will certainly be an exciting one for years to come.
EOU quarterback Chris Ware has certainly been a thorn in the side of Frontier Conference teams for three years already. But he's been particularly unfriendly to the Lights this season.
Ware threw three second-half TD passes Saturday, and also scrambled around to the tune of over 100 yards in EOU's comeback win.
The junior quarterback from Rainier, Ore., who is already a two-time NAIA All-American, did much the same thing to the Lights last month at Community Stadium. Northern led EOU at halftime of that game too, but Ware pushed his team down the field three times in the second half to overtake a Northern team playing at a high level that day, just like the Lights were on Saturday.
"We have a lot of faith in each other," Ware said of his 5-4 Mountaineers. "No matter how down things get, we have trust in each other and we believe in not giving up."