Night games in Blue Pony Stadium aren’t uncommon. In fact, the
y happen on many fall Friday nights in Havre when the Havre Blue Ponies are in town. And when the Ponies host a Class A quarterfinal playoff game on the same weekend the Montana State University-Northern football team is slated to play, then it’s the Lights who get to shine on Friday nights.
And they did just that in Friday’s 24-0 win over Rocky Mountain College at Blue Pony Stadium. It was the third-such Friday night win at Blue Pony for the Lights under Mark Samson, and after each one, he’s considered playing more of them.
"I think I'm going to schedule every game next year at night," Samson said. "What do you think about that?
"Our kids like it and it's a lot of fun," the coach continued. "Night games have been pretty good to us."
Good indeed. The Lights won their first night game under Samson back in 2004 – against the Battlin’ Bears. Northern also closed the 2008 season with a dominant Friday night victory over Montana Tech. Samson moved to 3-0 after dark on Friday night, and a perfect 7-0 in his Northern career in games played at night. The Lights also beat Montana Tech under Tech’s Alumni Coliseum lights back in September in Butte.
“It’s been a great night,” Samson said. “I’m just really, really proud of our kids. They played very hard tonight. It was a lot of fun.”
There was a time when the Northern/Rocky rivalry meant a nationally-rated MSU-N defense against one of the most pass-happy offenses in college football. But Friday night, it was Rocky which still brought that offense, but had a nationally-renowned defense. However, Northern’s offense was the fine-tuned machine, while the Lights’ defense took full control.
Northern pitched its first shutout in more than five seasons, and the Lights did it in all phases. Rocky’s offense was on the field for a grand total of 15:04. The Bears were able to run just 39 total plays thanks to Northern’s efficient offense, but also to a defense which gave up just eight first downs, let the Bears come across the 50-yard-line just four times, allow no points and create three turnovers. The 127 yards of offense allowed was a near school record and the time-of-possession was close as well.
But the stat that matters most is the zero on the scoreboard at the end of the game.
“It felt awesome,” MSU-N sophomore linebacker Jordan Van Voast said. “Last week we didn't play to well so we came out this week with a lot of intensity in practice and it really paid off all week and showed this weekend (Friday). We knew what we wanted to do defensively and we came out and did it. We had a new mentality with nothing to lose so we just played hard and got the job done.”
The Bears usually make plenty of big passing plays in any game. But it was Northern which was hitting home runs all night. And junior receiver Kyle Johnston was on the receiving end of many of them.
Johnston caught seven Derek Lear passes for 138 yards and completely outshined Rocky’s A.J. Tolbert, who came in leading the Frontier Conference in both receiving yards and catches per game. MSU-N’s defense shut Tolbert down to the tune of just two catches, while Johnston was open all night long. He had a 25-yard TD catch, but he was catching balls in big chunks all game long. Johnston, who already leads the conference in yards per catch, averaged 15 yards per against a Bears’ secondary that came in with a combined 10 interceptions and 44 passes defended between its four starters.
"I was surprised we were so open down field,” Johnston, who now has 41 catches for 653 yards on the season said. “Last time we played them their safeties played deep and soft, but tonight (Friday) we were able to get behind them. We could have made a couple more plays on that, but all in all it was just a really good night. We just took advantage of those changes their defense made.”
Things got somewhat weird toward’s the end of Friday night’s game, and a it wasn’t even a full moon.
First, Rocky’s Steffan Blume was ejected for attempting to throw a punch in the fourth quarter, then came the strangest play of the night. Northern running back Justin Montelius was stripped of the ball on a big gain, with Rocky’s Jacob Scharbrough grabbing the loose ball and racing almost 70 yards down the Rocky sideline. Scharbrough looked like he was going to score with only Lear to beat, but he opted to lateral the ball to a teammate instead. That turned out to be a bad decision as the ball fell to the turf and was recovered by the Lights.
Rocky defensive tackle Paul Palu returned an interception 92 yards for a score last season in Havre, but Scharbrough's decision Friday only resulted in two turnovers coming in less 30 seconds.