The Frontier Conference has always been intriguing. But it’s been a decade since it’s been this interesting at the halfway mark of the football season.
Five games into the 2011 season, the Carroll College Fighting’ Saints don’t have their 11th straight conference title sewed up. Actually, the league is far from decided, and that’s a rarity in itself. Instead, four teams are within one game of each other at the midway point, and that should make the next five weeks about as exciting as any Frontier season has been in a long, long time.
In the first half, the Frontier has seen Carroll lose a conference game for the first time in almost six years, Eastern Oregon get off to its best start in school history, Montana State-Northern get emerge as a league power again and Rocky Mountain College continue its recent climb despite losing one of the best offensive weapons the league has seen in quite some time.
Halfway to the postseason, EOU and Carroll sit tied atop the league standings at 4-1, while RMC and Northern are a game back at 3-2. On the flip side to the success of the top four teams is the shocking struggles at Montana Tech, and even at UM-Western to an extent. The Orediggers opened the Chuck Morrell era with a win, but have lost five straight games and sit in dead last in the league at 0-5. It took Western five games to get head first-year head coach Ryan Nourse his first career win, and that came by way of a dominating performance against the Diggers’ last week in Dillon.
The second half of the season should be a barn burner. Eastern Oregon is still in the drivers seat because Carroll and Northern both have to travel to LaGrande, Ore. If EOU could find a way to win both of those games, the Frontier title would leave Montana for the first time ever. Carroll is in a good spot too, but the Saints have to not only trip to LaGrande, but also have to play Northern in Havre on the last day of the regular season. The Frontier title could very well hang in the balance on that day in November. The Lights and Bears’ playoff hopes likely hinge on winning out, and Northern is in a good spot there. MSU-N still gets both Rocky and Carroll at home, as well as Tech at home in two weeks. Rocky has a tougher rod ahead, having to go to both Carroll and Northern in the second half, but the Bears do get EOU at home, and they are the only team to knock off the Mounties this season.
Clearly, there’s a lot left to sort out, and the next five weeks are going to be a lot of fun.
•There’s been some big performances in the first half of the season individually. Carroll’s Chance Demarias has gone over 200 yards twice, and Northern’s Stephen Silva has done it once. Demarias continues to lead the league, and the NAIA in rushing at 158 yards per game. He has nearly 800 yards through five games. EOU’s Kevin Sampson has been no slouch either. Sampson averages 117 yards per game, which is second in the Frontier and 13th nationally. Silva is fourth in the league in rushing at 90 yards per game. The junior has 436 yards, three touchdowns and averages six yards per carry.
Northern sophomore Derek Lear leads the conference in passing and total offense. Lear has 1,349 yards and 10 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Lear is completing 69 percent of his passes and is also eighth in the conference in rushing at just over 44 yards per game. He leads the Frontier in total offense, and is fifth in the NAIA in that category. MSU-N sophomore Orin Johnson leads the Frontier in catches with 32. Transfer Kyle Johnston is second in yards per game at 77, while Rocky’s A.J. Tolbert leads the league in that category. Brandon O’Brien is second in the league behind Johnson in receptions, and he’s fourth in the league in receiving yards per game.
MSU-N also has a league leader on defense. Senior defensive end Will Andrews leads the league in sacks with five and he’s second in the conference in tackles for loss with 8.5. Carroll’s Thomas Robison leads the Frontier in total tackles with 55. Northern’s Landry see is third with 46 and Jordan Van Voast is sixth with 43. Rocky’s Thomas Ackerman and Ridge Fuentes, Tech’s Logan Ledgerwood and Carroll’s Mike Siegersma are all tied for the Frontier lead in INT’s with three each.
•As for awards at the halfway point, it’s a dead heat with plenty of candidates for Offensive Player of the Year. Obviously, EOU’s Chris Ware, as well as Sampson are the front-runners, but Lear has made a strong case to be in that upper echelon of offensive players as well. Demarias is also right there, as he is having a monster season, and Rocky quarterback Bryce Baker could be considered a darkhorse candidate.
On the defensive side of the ball, Robison, Andrews and See can all make strong cases for player of the year honors at the halfway point. EOU’s Marc-Avery Airhart is also having an outstanding season as is Rocky’s Steffan Blume. Special team’s standouts so far include Johnston at Northern, who leads the league in punt returns and is second in kickoff returns, as well as Rocky return man Eric Buer and EOU return man Kedrick Starr.
•The second half of the Frontier season kicks off Oct. 15 with Northern traveling to Western, Carroll hosting Rocky and EOU hosting Montana Tech.