It’s becoming quite clear that every week, there’s at least one big game in the Frontier Conference. Last week was no different, and neither is this week.
In a nationally-ranked showdown last Saturday in Billings, the MSU-Northern Lights knocked off the then No. 17 Rocky Mountain College Battlin’ Bears 35-32. It was a huge win for Northern and it further shook up the conference standings as the Lights (3-1) moved into a second-place tie with Carroll College.
And that sets up this Saturday’s nationally-ranked game between the Lights and Saints (3-1) in Helena. Not only is the game televised statewide on the local CW Network, but it pits a rivalry matchup between two ranked teams. It’s been four years since the Lights and Saints have both been ranked for a game, but Saturday’s game will have national and conference implications. The Lights come in at No. 22 in the NAIA this week, while Carroll sits at No. 4.
And the winner of Saturday’s game will have a leg up on keeping pace with Eastern Oregon, while the loser will fall a game further back in the standings.
•Saturday’s win over Rocky was important for Northern in that it gave the Lights their second road win of the season. MSU-N won just twice on the road all last year.
Northern also broke three school records in Billings Saturday. The MSU-N offense broke the single-game record for total offense. The Lights racked up 562 yards against a Rocky defense which was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in almost every defensive category coming in. The old record for total offense in a game was set in 2006 when the Lights totaled 542 yards against the Bears. Running back Stephen Silva also broke the Lights’ record for the most rushing yards in a game with 201. Former Northern quarterback Kyle Samson set the old record in 2006 with 166 yards, also against RMC. Derek Lear also broke Samson’s single-game record for completion percentage after he went 21-of-25 for an 84 percent completion rate Saturday. Samson had the record since 2006 at 76 percent.
Lear continues to lead the Frontier in passing, averaging 278 yards per game. He’s also third in the NAIA in completion percentage at 67 percent per game.
•If Northern is going to have success Saturday in Helena, the Lights will have to stop former Malta prep Chance Demarias. The Saints have made no bones about feeding Demarias the ball, and as a result, he’s leading the nation in rushing through four games. Demarias is averaging just over 168 yards per game on 27 totes per outing. He’s a bruising junior back who’s making a name for himself nationally, and as a prep star for the Mustangs, he was heavily recruited by the Lights.
The Northern/Carroll game will run at the same time as the predicted shootout between No. 9 EOU and RMC Saturday in LaGrande, Ore. The last four times the Mounties and Bears have met, the two teams have averaged to combined for almost 90 points per game, but Saturday’s matchup could be different. Rocky and Eastern both rank in the top four in the conference in total defense and both teams are adept at stopping the pass.
•While there is a logjam at the top of the Frontier standings, the battle for last place will take place Saturday in Dillon. Western and Montana Tech will meet for the annual rivalry game with both teams sitting at 0-4 in the league. It’s been more than a decade since both teams have come into their first meeting of the season without a conference win.
Scoring has been a problem for both squads and their first-year head coaches this season. Western averages a league-low 21.5 points per game, and the Bulldogs are also last in total offense. Head coach Ryan Nourse has replaced starter Jeff Logan with former Dillon standout Zach McCrae at quarterback.
Meanwhile, the Orediggers are fifth in the Frontier in scoring at 22 points per game under new head coach Chuck Morrell. The Diggers' move the ball a little better, averaging just over 300 yards of offense per game. But they are last in the league in turnover margin and that has hurt their start to the season.
The loser of Saturday’s game in Dillon will be alone in last in the Frontier as the league goes into its annual bye week.