By Tiffany L. Rehbein
They've conquered one milestone after another, and the MSU-Northern Lights football team will have its final opportunity Saturday to tack one more on the board.
The Lights (1-5 in the Frontier Conference, 3-6 overall) will face the Montana Tech Orediggers (5-2, 8-4).
"It will be like any game," said head coach Walt Currie. "We would like to win it, and, to do that, we need to cut down on our turnovers. We had a lot of them the first time we played them." Some of those turnovers included four interceptions, two each thrown by Chris Jackson and John Parrish.
When the two teams met Aug. 28, at Butte to open the Frontier Conference schedule, the Orediggers came away with a 44-0 win.
However, heading into the locker room that August day, the Orediggers were only up 9-0, and were surprised at the young power of this upstart program.
But, in the second half, junior Montana Tech quarterback Kane Claunch threw for three touchdown passes en route to the Montana Tech whitewash.
Claunch is third in the league in total offensive yards, averaging 213 total yards per game.
However, Lights' freshman quarterback Chris Jackson, who is second in the league with 217 average yards per game, stands atop Claunch in the category.
Also for the Orediggers, Jay LeProwse leads the offense. LeProwse is second in the league, averaging 153.9 all-purpose yards per game. He leads the league in rushing, averaging nearly 100 yards per game. He also poses a threat in the special teams punt return.
When the two teams met earlier this season, LeProwse was held to just 36 yards rushing, but managed an average of 44 yards per kick return.
Three Lights are in the top 10 in all-purpose yards. Andy Smith, the strongest Northern receiver, is fifth in the league, averaging 125.6 yards per game, Travis Crawford is sixth, averaging 112.8, and T Artis averages 88.88 yards.
Travis Hille is the Lights' leading rusher, averaging 39.4 yards per game. However, due to injury Hille will not play on Saturday.
Smith, who dismantled the Orediggers with 13 catches for 208 yards earlier this season, averages more than 100 yards receiving per game.
"Smith has definitely stood out," Currie said. "At the skill positions, we have some good people at the running backs. We were a little young in the offensive line, but they've made constant improvement, so, hopefully, we'll be a little bit better at those positions."
Defensively, the Lights suffered six sacks at the hands of the Orediggers.
Light Troy Gunlock, who is out with an injury, had eight tackles against Montana Tech earlier this season. Seth Swingley, who has alternated with Gunlock throughout the season at the free safety position, will get the start for the Lights.
Bill McGuire, Joel Onsager, and Troy Martin are tough at the defensive back position for the Lights.
Darren Fike and Josh Fike lead the team in tackles, while Kino Detrick is hard-nosed on the defensive line for Northern.
"Defense has always been our strength," Currie said. The Lights returned 10 defensive powers from last year's exhibition team. "On defense, we've got some good, solid, hard-nosed kids."
Currie also noted that Steve Spangler, Lucas Gunderson, and Chad Rearden have really stepped up this season.
The Lights, in their first season as a full member of the Frontier Conference since 1971, have notched some milestones.
They downed Western Montana College 3-0 in overtime to collect their first conference win on Oct. 16. The Lights defeated South Dakota Tech 42-19, which tallied them a win on the road. They also defeated Minot State 27-21 in a non-conference overtime victory on Sept. 18.
"First, getting the win and being able to come from behind and get the win, that was big," Currie said. "Then we learned how to win on the road, so that's good, and, then, getting a conference win was another goal that we had to accomplish somewhere along the line."
"We know they'll be ready to play," Currie said about the Orediggers. "They're the kind of team where they're going to be ready to play. They don't want some young upstart to come and beat them."
The Orediggers were beat out of the conference title by Rocky Mountain College two weeks ago. Last weekend, both teams had a bye from action.
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium.