Halfway home and many Frontier Conference football teams got much-needed rest last week.
Carroll College, MSU-Northern, Rocky Mountain College and UM-Western all are coming off byes and will start the second half of the 2012 season this weekend.
And in perhaps the biggest game of the new week, the Lights will try to use their by week to springboard themselves to their third straight win. And while Northern isn’t playing a team that is rested, the Southern Oregon Red Raiders come to Havre certainly flying high.
SOU (3-2) is coming off a record-setting 68-22 win over arch rival Eastern Oregon last Saturday. In that game, the Raiders put up over 500 yards of total offense and sophomore quarterback Austin Dodge threw for 455 yards in the first half and didn’t play the rest of the way.
Saturday’s game between the Lights and Raiders at Blue Pony Stadium will feature a who’s who of statistical leaders, in not only the Frontier, but in all of NAIA football.
Dodge has put up staggering numbers this season. He’s thrown for 300 yards or more in every game the Raiders have played thus far and he is first in the Frontier in both passing and total offense. He also leads the league in passer rating at 164.9 after throwing for 17 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Dodge is currently second in the NAIA in passing and first in total offense.
Northern quarterback Derek Lear, who’s really come on strong the is second in the Frontier in passing and total offense, while he ranks fifth in the NAIA in total offense and 13th nationally passing. Lear is also right behind Dodge in pass efficiency with 15 TD’s and just six INT’s.
But the quarterbacks won’t be the only one’s putting up staggering numbers on Saturday. MSU-N’s Stephen Silva is leading the Frontier in rushing at 105 yards per game, which also ranks him 10th nationally. SOU running back Manny Barragan is third in the Frontier in rushing at 103.5 yards per game. SOU wide receiver Cole Mackenzie is also going big this season. He’s averaging eight catches and 137 yards per game, which ranks him tops in the Frontier in both categories. Mackenzie is second in the NAIA in receiving yards, while Northern senior Kyle Johnston is currently averaging 88 yards per game and 16.9 yards per catch. MSU-N junior Brandon O’Brien leads the Frontier and is third nationally with a whopping 21.3 yards per catch.
But what Saturday’s game may come down to is defense, despite the high-flying offenses which will be on display at Blue Pony Stadium. And Northern has a well-rested defense after having its second bye week of the season.
"The bye went good for us," Northern head coach Mark Samson said. "We really didn't change much though. We took a good hard look at Southern Oregon last week, and then on Monday we came back to work and installed a game plan. Really, they 9Red Raiders) don't do anything we haven't already seen this season. What it boils down to is personnel and they have a lot of very good football players."
Speaking of rest, Montana Tech will have its bye this week, but the Orediggers may prefer to have just kept on playing. After thumping Dickinson State on the road last week, Tech is riding a five-game winning streak and the Diggers’ are doing it ways they didn’t get it done last year.
Sophomore running back Pat Hansen is having a big season, as expected, but quarterback Nick Baker has been rock steady, and Tech’s defense has been so stingy, that it’s harkening back to the days of Bob Green led defenses which were perennial playoff contenders. Tech is only allowing 21 points per game which is second best in the league, and since the first week, where the Diggers’ turned it over five times in a two-point loss to Eastern Oregon, they’ve really taken care of the ball. Tech has rebounded from the EOU game and now, the Digger’s lead the league in turnover margin.
As a result, the Orediggers are headed towards a huge turnaround season after going 3-8 a year ago. However, the schedule will certainly play a role in how far Tech takes this ride. The Diggers’ have five games left, starting with a road trip to EOU on Oct. 20 and ending with a return trip to Oregon to take on SOU on Nov. 10. Sandwhiched in between are tough home games with Northern and Western.
With the MSU-Northern offense really kicking into high gear the last few weeks, the MSU-N defense may be a bit overshadowed. But the Lights currently boast six of the Top 10 tacklers in the Frontier Conference.
Senior linebacker James Chandless is third in the league with 47 tackles, while fellow linebackers Jordan Van Voast and David Arteaga are tied fifth with 43 a piece. Safeties Josh Baum and Matt Reyant are presently tied eighth with 42 tackles each, and junior defensive end Ryan Craig is second in the league with 4.5 sacks.
MSU-N’s defense will have to be especially sharp this week though as the Lights host an SOU offense which is averaging over 600 yards per game. Kickoff at Blue Pony Stadium on Saturday is set for a special time of 12:30 p.m.