There’s no question the Carroll College Fighting Saints sure know how to take the wind out of a home crowd’s sails. They’ve done it game-after-game, in stadium-after-stadium during their reign of dominance in the Frontier Conference.
And they did it again Friday night at Blue Pony Stadium.
A crowd of over 3,100 was on hand to see the MSU-Northern Lights take on the Saints in a game that myself, the Frontier and just about everyone outside of the two teams playing had built up as one of the biggest season-openers in Frontier Conference history. And though the final score wasn’t what I or many expected, I still believe it was one of the biggest season-openers in Frontier history.
But there’s no doubt Carroll did it again.
An amped up crowd was silenced in the first four minutes of the game when Carroll marched 80 yards and set the tone by gaining all 80 of those yards on the ground. Chance Demarais scored a three-yard touchdown in what was a vintage, crowd-quieting Carroll drive.
And the Saints did it again in the third quarter when they found themselves leading just 7-0 and the game still very much in doubt.
Still, there was something a little bit different about the way the Lights responded to Carroll’s devastating ground-and-pound, demoralizing drives. This time, unlike many Frontier teams over the years, Northern never backed down.
The fact that Carroll made it look so easy on the game’s opening drive, but then only found itself ahead 7-0 at halftime is proof positive that the Lights were not intimidated and the Northern defense answered the bell so to speak.
In the first half, MSU-N got two takeaways, something that seems to almost never happen against the Saints. They also got stops. The Lights’ defense twice held when Carroll had drove all the way inside Northern’s 10-yard-line, another feat you rarely see opposing defenses do against Carroll. Usually, when the Saints get in the redzone, they score.
The fact the Lights went into the lockerroom trailing by only seven points wasn’t a miracle and it wasn’t luck — it was about heart and character and effort.
And though the Lights’ offense never really clicked on Friday night, they had a hand in it too. Like the defense, Northern never gave up on offense, despite a string of injuries to key players, despite a host of mental mistakes, and despite an attacking Carroll defense which seemed to be laying big hits on Lights’ players all night long.
Northern did sustain drives and gave the defense a chance to rest here and there.
Collectively, the effort from every Light who stepped on the field was there on Friday night, and when Carroll does what it does to teams, sometimes that effort level drops way down.
You didn’t see that from the Lights on Friday night.
“I was not at all disappointed in our effort,” Northern head coach Mark Samson said. “Our defense did everything you could ask of them tonight. And I thought all of our kids played very hard. And I did think we came out and looked ready to go at the start of the game. So the effort and how hard we played is not something I’m disappointed in at all.”
In the end however, Carroll made sure effort alone wasn’t enough.
In the end, Carroll was vintage Carroll, silencing a would-be hostile home crowd and making sure sports writers like me, who hinted towards the chance of an upset in the days leading up to the game were proved wrong (though I never once predicted an outcome to the game one way or another). In the end, the Saints did what they do, which is just win and now they are the ones the Lights and everybody else will be chasing for the next three months. In the end none of that is new or breaking news.
But at game’s end, as Derek Lear threw a last-second touchdown pass to Brandt Montelius, I liked what I saw from the Lights. In the end, I know the Lights will have better days on offense, and I know they will shut down some teams in the Frontier on defense. The Lights are much too talented and much too good not to.
What I liked though is the heart and character I saw. The Lights didn’t back down and they certainly didn’t lay down on Friday. And in the long run, that will only make them a better football team.