To say Carroll College has been great is putting it mildly. In fact, there are few adjectives to describe just how Carroll has dominated the Frontier Conference over the last 12 years.
And that’s why it’s extremely unusual to be writing about a Carroll loss, in conference play, for the second year in a row.
It took from October of 2006 (when MSU-Northern beat the Saints in Havre), until September of 2011 (when Eastern Oregon won in Helena) for Carroll to lose two Frontier football games. But it took just a little less than a year for it to happen again.
On Saturday, Carroll lost its second Frontier game in as many years when the Saints were soundly beaten by Montana Tech, 37-20 in Butte. And while it’s always shocking when Carroll loses a league game, it’s how the Saints lost which is even more unbelievable. Twice, Carroll coughed up the football inside its own 10-yard-line in the first half, and the turnover battle is something Carroll usually always wins.
The Saints also couldn’t stop Pat Hansen, who rushed for 128 yards, and out-played the injured Chance Demarais, who failed to reach the 100-yard plateau.
There’s no doubt Carroll came in hurting after its physical loss to Big Sky Conference power Portland State two weeks ago, and the Saints’ schedule, three straight road games at Northern, PSU and Tech seemed to have caught up with them.
And a wounded Carroll team will get no rest because the Saints finally play their home opener against No. 19 Rocky Mountain College this Saturday.
The Bears are easily the surprise team of the Frontier, and are off to a 3-0 start behind the superb play of sophomore Bryce Baker and a huge offensive line. And that makes Saturday’s game between the Saints and Bears in Helena, easily the biggest game of the young season. Rocky’s win over Southern Oregon was like old times for Bears’ fans and at 3-0, the Bears are in the driver’s seat in a league that is now wide open thanks to Tech’s win over Carroll.
It’s also wide open because of Eastern Oregon. When the schedule came out, a trip to Butte, then a home game against Northern could have easily spelled an 0-2 start for a Mountaineers team which graduated eight starters and four NAIA All-Americans from its record-setting offense last year. Instead, the Mounties are 2-0. They squeaked by Tech 26-24 in Butte, then beat the Lights 17-14 on a last-second field goal Saturday in LaGrande.
And now, everyone, including Carroll and Northern are chasing the Bears and Mounties, when everyone was supposed to be chasing the Saints and Lights.
Piling up the numbers
Talk about putting up some numbers. Week three of the Frontier Conference football season was ridiculous.
Here’s just a few numbers of what was a wild and crazy weekend of football in the Frontier.
In Billings, Rocky Mountain College and Southern Oregon played a game which ended up with the kind of stats you’d see if the game was played with two people on their couch on Xbox Live.
Rocky quarterback Bryce Baker passed for 544 yards and five scores in the Battlin’ Bears 52-30 win over SOU. In recent years, those kinds of numbers were what Rocky fans were used to seeing from the Bears’ offense, but considering Baker averaged just 204 yards per game last year, the fact that he completed 41 passes on Saturday was astounding, and it earned him NAIA National Player of the Week honors.
Not to be out done, SOU quarterback Austin Dodge threw for 345 yards and four TD’s in the losing effort. As a whole, RMC and EOU combined for a gaudy 1,029 yards of offense. I guess the air-raid days of football are back at Rocky.
Then there’s EOU’s Howard McDonald. Last week in Butte, McDonald had a game all linebackers dream of, registering 21 tackles, two sacks and scoring a touchdown on offense in a win over Montana Tech. But he managed to our-do himself in EOU’s 17-14 win over MSU-Northern on Saturday. McDonald totaled 25 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, and he scored his second rushing touchdown of the season. I’d say the Frontier’s Defensive Player of the Year award is close to being locked up if McDonald keeps these types of games up.
There were also some interesting stats from the Tech/Carroll shocker.
It’s not often a team registers nine quarterback sacks in a game, but that’s how many times the Carroll defense got to Tech QB Nick Baker. Baker lost 41 yards of offense while being harassed by the Carroll defense, yet Pat Hansen ran for over 100 yards on a Saints’ defense which didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher in its loss to FCS power Portland State the week before. Hansen’s performance and a bevy uncharacteristic Carroll turnovers were the difference in Tech’s stunning victory.
Something will give
It might not be a surprise to anyone that new Frontier Conference member Dickinson State is off to an 0-2 start in the Blue Hawk’s inaugural season. After all, the Blue Hawks were picked to finish near the bottom of the Frontier.
But Northern being the only other team to not win a game in the first three weeks of the season has surprised plenty. However, someone is going to get their first win of the season this Saturday when the Lights and Blue Hawks face off in Dickinson, N.D.
MSU-N hasn’t played the Blue Hawks since the 2007 season, and has never played in DSU’s brand new stadium, which is the only stadium in the Frontier to boast a sprin turf field.
But Northern doesn’t care where the game is played this weekend, as long as the Lights start putting up points.
MSU-N possessed one of the most prolific offenses in the NAIA a year ago, and all of those
skill players are back. Yet, the Lights have put up just 20 points in two losses this season, after Northern scored 14 in a 17-14 loss at EOU on Saturday.
In fairness, MSU-N has played the top two rated defenses in the Frontier this season in Carroll and EOU, but that’s no excuse for head coach Mark Samson.
“It’s just not clicking right now,” Samson said. “We have to better in the red-zone. We have to score when we get those chances. So we’ve really focused on that this week. We have worked on being more disciplined and doing what we’re supposed to all the time. Over the very two games, we’ve been pretty good on offense about 80 percent of the time. But its that other 20 percent where we haven’t been very good at all. We have to eliminate those mistakes we’ve been making and be a more disciplined football team. Hopefully we’ll be better in Dickinson.”
Even at 0-2 however, there’s no reason for the Lights to hit the panic button. They still have eight games left in a Frontier that’s anybody’s to take right now.
And Northern’s offense is moving the ball. The Lights totaled nearly 500 yards against the Mounties, got 88 yards rushing from Stephen Silva and a strong effort from young wideout Mick Miller. Northern is also being bitten by the injury bug, and once healthy, there’s no reason why MSU-N can’t be the offense the Lights were hoping they’d be this season.
The Lights simply have too much talent not to be good on offense, and they’ll look to this Saturday’s game against the Blue Hawks to show that.
The Lights and Blue Hawks square off Saturday in Dickinson.