For the second straight week, the Montana State University-Northern Lights had a victory taken away from them in the final seconds of a Frontier Conference football game.
This time around, it was the Dickinson State Blue Hawks, who scored a go-ahead touchdown with 22 seconds left in the game, and ultimately beat the Lights 21-20 Saturday afternoon at the Badlands Activity Center in Dickinson, N.D.
The Blue Hawks overcame a 20-7 Northern lead in the fourth quarter to give the Lights their third straight loss to open the 2012 season. The win was also DSU’s historic first as a member of the Frontier Conference and it made head coach Hank Biesiot the all-time wins leader in NAIA history.
In a game which Northern’s offense struggle to points on the board for the third straight week, the Lights were finally in a comfortable position with under eight minutes to go in the game. Derek Lear found Brandon O’Brien for touchdown passes on back-to-back series. O’Brien caught a 17-yard TD pass with 1:37 left in the third quarter and hauled in a 14-yard strike to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth. However, the first touchdown proved to be the difference in the game because on that TD, DSU blocked Northern’s ensuing PAT, and the Blue Hawks ultimately won by an extra point.
DSU’s monumental comeback happened in a seven-minute span in the fourth quarter. The Blue Hawks scored on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Dave Valesquez to Wyatt Mirich with 6:58 left in the game to make the score 20-14. They then ground out the clock on a 13-play, game-winning drive that took 4:42. Then, with the ball back in their hands, they marched for the winning score.
Junior receiver Jimmy Smith came up with two big catches on the final series. He dragged his feet in bounds along the DSU sideline for a 16-yard reception up to the DSU 4 on a fourth-and-9 and set up Presley Straub’s TD with a 7-yard catch after junior tailback Myren Moore was pushed back to the 10 on a pitch. The final play came on a fourth-and-goal when Valesquez rolled out and found Straub dragging across the goal line for the score.
The Lights did have one final gasp in the final 20 seconds. Lear threw one hail mary pass into the endzone on what looked to be the final play of the game, but a pass interference call on DSU moved the ball up 15 yards, and Northern had one more look at the endzone, but the final Lear pass fell incomplete.
“We made too many mistakes,” MSU-Northern head coach Mark Samson told the Dickinson Press. “Then we had to suck it up at the end of the game and we didn’t get it done. That’s, in a nutshell, how we played today. We should have never been in that situation to begin with. We just didn’t do things when we had to really do them.”
For the second game in a row, the Lights started strong on both sides of the ball. Northern took the opening possession of the game and marched right down the field, ending with a 14-yard touchdown run by Stephen Silva. MSU-N’s defense was also solid and didn’t allow the Blue Hawks a score until midway through the second period when Tanner Leak caught a 21-yard TD pass. The two teams took that 7-7 tie into halftime.
But at the end of the day, MSU-N’s offense sputtered at times, as DSU out-gained the Lights 340-297 in total yards. Lear threw for just 108 yards and two scores, but he also rushed for a70 yards and didn’t throw an interception. Silva rushed for 77 yards on 19 carries and Justin Montelius racked up an additional 45 yards on the ground. O’Brien caught two TD’s after missing last week’s game at EOU with an injury, while Brandt Montelius had four catches to lead a Northern receiving group which was without star Kyle Johnston.
Defensively, the Lights kept the normally potent DSU run game in check. But they couldn’t seem to stop Valesquez, a Montana native from making big plays with his arm. Linebackers James Chandless and David Arteaga led Northern with 12 and 11 tackles, respectively, while Ryan Craig and Jordan Van Voast each had a sack.
With the loss, the Lights are now 0-3 and in last place in the Frontier Conference. But Northern can make up some ground with its next three games at home. The Lights host UM-Western this Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium, then host Rocky Mountain College for Homecoming on Sept. 29. Following the Rocky game is MSU-N’s second bye week, then the Lights return home to play Southern Oregon on Oct. 13.
Dickinson State 21, Lights 20
MSU-N 7 0 6 7 — 20
DSU 0 7 0 14 — 21
MSU-N–Stephen Silva 14 run (Trevor Baum kick), 6:59.
DSU–Tanner Leak 21 pass from Dave Velasquez (Chad Bryant kick) 8:10.
MSU-N–Brandon O’Brien 17 pass from Derek Lear (kick blocked), 1:37.
MSU-N–O’Brien 14 pass from Lear (Baum kick), 8:22.
DSU–Wyatt Mirich 56 pass from Velasquez (Bryant kick), 6:58.
DSU–Presley Straub 3 pass from Velasquez (Bryant kick), :22
First downs 19 19
Rushes-yards 38-189 41-125
Passing yards 108 215
Comp.-Att.-Int. 11-20-0 15-31-0
Total yards 108 215
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 6-40 3-31
Punts-Avg. 5-45.4 6-37.8
RUSHING: MSU-N, Stephen Silva 19-77, Lear 12-70, Justin Montelius 4-49, Orin Johnson 3-3. DSU, Myren Moore 16-64, Presley Straub 11-31, Dave Velasquez 7-16, Kyle Stanton 4-13, Jordan Moore 2-2.
PASSING: MSU-N, Lear 11-20-0 108. DSU, Velasquez 15-31-0 230.
RECEIVING: MSU-N, Brandt Montelius 4-46, O’Brien 2-32, Silva 2-22, Mick Miller 1-5, Johnson 1-4, J. Montelius 1-(minus-3). DSU, Jimmy Smith 5-66, Cody Clausen 3-34, Tanner Leak 2-38, Presley Straub 2-21, Wyatt Mirich 1-56, J.T. Keith 1-9, Kyle Stanton 1-6.
TACKLES (FOR A LOSS): MSU-N, James Chandless 12, David Arteaga 11, Butch Hyder 9, Josh Baum 7 (1), Ryan Craig 6 (1.5), Mike Carbon 4, Jordan VanVoast 4 (1.5). DSU, Kyle Watson 11 (.5), Jaylen Sokoloski 10, Jay Grosz 9 (.5), Nolan Schwartz 5, Cord Berg 5 (2), Colton Hill 5 (1), Mike Fisher 4.
SACKS: MSU-N, Craig, Van Voast. DSU, None.
Lights are 0-3 in the Frontier, 0-3 overall; Next Up: vs UM-Western this Saturday
Frontier Conference Standings
Eastern Oregon 2-0 2-0
Rocky Mountain 2-1 3-1
Montana Tech 2-1 2-1
Carroll College 2-1 2-2
Southern Oregon 1-1 1-1
Dickinson State 1-2 1-2
UM-Western 1-2 1-2
MSU-Northern 0-3 0-3
Dickinson State 21, MSU-Northern 20
Carroll 19, Rocky Mountain 6
Montana Tech 30, UM-Western 24 (2 OT)
Saturday, Sept. 22
MSU-Northern vs UM-Western
Montana Tech at Rocky Mountain
Dickinson State at Southern Oregon