Coming into the 2012 Frontier Conference season, the thought around the league was, nobody had a better receiving corps then the Montana State University-Northern Lights.
And it may have taken a while, but the Lights proved people right as MSU-N receivers torched the UM-Western Bulldogs all day long, in a 46-39 Northern win inside Blue Pony Stadium.
Of course, all of the Lights’ receivers who caught passes Saturday, and there were plenty, eight in all, will be the first to credit junior quarterback Derek Lear for making the right throws. But that love will be turned right around and given back by Lear because, the majority of the time, a QB is only as good as his receivers are.
And boy were the Lights receivers good on Saturday.
Northern has so much depth, and that’s been needed because the Lights have suffered plenty of injuries at the position this season. And that depth showed as Brand Montelius and Mick Miller combined for seven catches and 79 yards on Saturday. Montelius scored his second career touchdown as well.
But the Lights don’t just have depth, they have star power at receiver, and with tight end Brian Torgerson. And those stars stepped up big, and with their backs against the wall.
“I thought every one of our receivers played really well today,” Northern head coach Mark Samson said. “Brandon (O’Brien), KJ (Kyle Johnston), OJ (Orin Johnson) all had huge games and played great. Mick Miller was good today, Brandt Montelius was good today and our backs caught passes well out of the backfield. We have a lot of depth and talent at receiver and they all showed up big for us today.”
Depth and talent is an understatement. Coming into the season, the trio of Johnston, Johnson and O’Brien were easily the consensus choice for the best receiving trio in the NAIA. Add in guys like Montelius, Miller, Torgerson, the emergence of young David Wilson, and the ability of running backs Stephen Silva and Justin Montelius to be effective in the passing game, and the Lights, on paper look to be almost unstoppable with Lear running the passing game.
But before Saturday’s shoot-out with Western, the Lights were averaging only 185 yards passing per contest, and only 7.3 yards per catch. Those stats contributed to Northern being the lowest scoring team in the Frontier conference.
But that was before Saturday.
The Lights receivers busted the MSU-N’s offense’s slump wide open and put it to rest. O’Brien and Johnston seemed to be open on every single pass play, while Johnson made the tough catches and took hard shots all day across the middle. Montelius and Miller came up big at crucial moments, and Torgerson did what he always does, blocked hard and caught balls when his number was called. It was the Northern passing game at its very best, and as a result, school records were shattered and the Lights are finally in the win column.
“All of our receivers were great today,” O’Brien said. “Everybody who got in made a big play, everybody ran great routes today and everybody really stepped up big. We know we can be explosive in the passing game and we showed that today. We needed this. This was big for us as a group.”
Over the course of the last two weeks, I’ve had plenty of people ask me what’s wrong with the Lights. I generally don’t answer questions like that because I’m not a coach, I’m not John Madded or John Gruden and I don’t like being an armchair quarterback.
Instead, I just kept saying, and telling myself, the Lights will break out. They are much too talented and too explosive, especially at the wide receiver position. They just have too many good receivers to be held down.
It turned out I was right and I really like being right.
Northern’s passing game woke up Saturday, and with a quarterback like Lear at the helm, and so many great targets to throw to, I sincerely doubt many teams will be able to hold them down from here on out.