Losing streaks are never easy to deal with, no matter the sport, no matter the time of year and no matter the team.
And that’s why the Montana State University-Northern football team will look to bring the summer to end by ending a losing streak that has been so close to being different.
The Lights have gone 0-3 to open the 2012 season, and have lost four straight dating back to a Nov. 14, 2011 loss at home to Carroll College, and scoring has been the main difference for the Lights during that time. In losses to the Saints, Eastern Oregon and Dickinson State, Northern is averaging just 13.3 points per game, which is last in the Frontier Conference and 77th nationally. Interestingly, the Lights are still in the top half of the Frontier in total offense, averaging 377 yards per game, and they are third in turnover margin, so those factors aren’t hurting MSU-N’s chances to score.
Instead, it appears the Lights have began the 2012 season in a slump. There isn’t necessarily an explanation for it, it’s just something a team must fight through and break out of. And Northern will try and do that on Saturday when the Lights return to Blue Pony Stadium to face the UM-Western Bulldogs, a team which has had some scoring troubles of its own, but does have a stingy defense, and narrowly lost to Montana Tech in double-overtime last Saturday.
Northern is looking to avoid the school’s first four-game losing skid in over a decade, and they’ll try and do it against a Western team which has taken Northern to overtime in two of its last three trips to Havre.
Who’s for real
With Northern picked to finish second in the Frontier Conference, and even Carroll College out of first place in the league standings this late in the season for the first time eons, you might as well chuck the Frontier Preseason Coaches Poll out the window at this point.
But one thing’s for sure, one team, which was picked to finish near the bottom of the league, isn’t going away. The Montana Tech Orediggers are up to No. 17 in this week’s NAIA Coaches Poll after beating the Bulldogs 30-24 in double OT last weekend. The Diggers are 2-1 in conference play and would likely be 3-0 if not for four turnovers in their season-opening, 26-24 loss to Eastern Oregon.
Tech is second in the Frontier in total offense, with sophomore standout Pat Hansen leading the league in rushing at 98 yards per game. Hansen’s production isn’t a surprise, but the fact that first-year starter Nick Baker is having such a good season is. The 6-1, 190-pounder from Lake Stevens, Wash., started the final three games of the 2011 season, the won the starting job from Brian Schwarzkoph and Matt Berg in fall camp, and all he’s done since is average 291 yards passing in three games this season, and he’s currently second in the Frontier in total offense. And it’s clear, with both Baker and Hansen in the backfield, Tech’s offense might get better and better as the season rolls on, and the Digger’s too.
The 2012 Frontier Conference schedule certainly has some teams traveling in the early part of the season. Carroll started off with three straight on the road, visiting Northern, Portland State and Tech before finally upending Rocky Mountain College 19-6 in Helena last Saturday.
But the Saints aren’t the only ones who’ve been traveling.
The Lights just completed back-to-back out-of-state trips, as they visited Eastern Oregon, a 17-hour bus ride on Sept. 8, and Dickinson State, a 7-hour ride, last Saturday. MSU-N doesn’t have to travel out of Montana again this season, and won’t leave Havre again until an Oct. 20 visit to Carroll, but the Lights have certainly had their fill of bus trips for now.
And it’s all new for Dickinson State, and the Blue Hawks are about to make the longest trip of any Frontier team this season when they travel to Ashland, Ore., to play Southern Oregon on Saturday. Driving distance between Dickinson, N.D. and Ashland is listed at 1,421. DSU has already made a 600-mile, 9-hour trek to Dillon this season, and while Eastern Oregon does have to travel out to DSU later this fall, no team in the Frontier will make a longer journey than the Blue Hawks this week.
There's certainly plenty to look forward to this week in the Frontier Conference.
There's an entire slate of games, all of which will have an impact on the final outcome of the league standings in November.
The biggest two games will come in Helena and Billings this weekend. No. 8 Eastern Oregon returns to the site of its biggest triumph a year ago as the Mounties battle No. 11 Carroll College. The Saints are playing their fifth game in five weeks, but their second in a row at home, while EOU is coming off a bye week.
There's also a nationally-ranked showdown in Billings as No. 17 Montana Tech travels to No. 22 Rocky Mountain College. The Orediggers are the hottest team in the NAIA right now, while the Battlin' Bears look to rebound from a first loss last weekend at Carroll. This is a matchup of two high-powered offenses, but it's also a game that could leave the loser completely out of the Frontier title race and NAIA playoff contention.