By Alan Sorensen
Carroll College opened Montana State University-Northern's home season with a blistering 97-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff by Heath Wall. Wall also put a bookend on the contest with a 33-yard scamper over the left side with 31 seconds remaining in the game.
The Fighting Saints' 33-0 shutout of the Lights at Blue Pony Stadium Saturday afternoon included two touchdowns in the second quarter and one in the third.
The outcome of the contest was never really in doubt after Wall's opening scramble, but Northern coach Walt Currie was pretty well satisfied with his team's showing against the No. 3 ranked NAIA team in the nation.
"I thought we played outstanding defense," Currie said Sunday. "That's the best defense we've played since we started the program.
"I thought that Kino Detrick played great; he had three quarterback sacks, and our freshman cornerback (Nate) Walters had an outstanding game, too, for his first time in a college football game."
Northern's defense forced Carroll to punt seven times, while Northern was forced to punt nine times.
"They've got a pretty good little short passing game and we hoped to get just enough penetration to get them just a little bit off stride on that," Currie said. "I thought we were just a little bit more physical up front defensively than they were offensively, and we did drop an interception that probably would have been a touchdown."
The Lights proved to be equal to the Saints in three other important categories punting, penalties and turnovers.
Freshman punter Jon Stark punted nine times for a total of 341 yards. His average was 37.9 yards and his longest was 54 yards.
Rhett Crites, a sophomore from Gildford, averaged 38.1 yards per punt for Carroll, and his longest was 61 yards. Two of Crites' kickoffs went into the end zone for no return.
The Lights also had some bright spots on offense, but most were negated by crucial penalties.
Northern went three plays and out on its first possession from its own 24 yard line, following a sack of quarterback Brandon Kerkes.
The Lights' defense put the clamp on the Saints after a five-yard return of Stark's first punt, a 37-yarder that was returned five yards to the Saints' 45 yard line. The Saints were tagged with a 15-yard penalty on the play, though, and were forced to start their first offensive possession at their own 30 yard line.
Northern's defense came up strong on the Carroll possession, after Carroll got its first first down on a pass play to the 42 with 2:26 gone in the first quarter.
Northern dropped Carroll for losses on two consecutive plays, the second a one-yard loss by Wall to set up a third and 13 for the Saints. On the next play, Detrick got his first sack of the game, dropping Carroll quarterback J.D. Emmert at the 32.
Crites' punt was taken by the Lights' Brendon Dennehy at his own 30 and returned to the 38.
Northern looked like it might get going after a third-and-eight completion to Andy Smith, giving the Lights their first first down. But a holding penalty against Northern moved the ball back to the Lights' 32 and brought up a third and 16. Kerkes followed with a completed pass to Tanner Woodward for what also appeared to be a first down. That play was called back because of a penalty and the Lights were faced with a third and 28. Kerkes' next pass to Smith was complete but short of first-down yardage and Northern was forced to punt.
Northern then held the Saints on four straight downs, thanks in part to a holding call.
With Northern facing a third and nine with 5:47 to go in the first quarter, tailback Travis Crawford ran up the middle past two defenders and nearly hauled in a perfect 20-yard pass from Kerkes. Crawford, who split the defenders and had about a five yard advantage, dropped the ball as he fell to the ground.
The Saints began their next possession at their own 25 after an illegal block penalty during the punt return. The first play from scrimmage was Detrick's second sack, this one for five yards. Emmert followed with an 11-yard completion to Casey Fitzsimmons and a four-yarder to Mark Gallik for its second of 23 first downs in the game.
Carroll moved the ball down the field in fits and starts before stalling out at Northern's 20 yard line with less than a minute gone in the second quarter.
A field goal attempt by Crites went wide left, but a penalty against Northern for 12 men on the field moved the ball half the distance to the goal and gave Carroll a first down.
Carroll running back Mike Morris took the ball nine yards to the one yard line and was stopped there by Northern's Troy Gunlock, who led Northern tacklers with nine unassisted take downs. Morris followed that play with a one-yard dive for the score. Crites' extra point attempt failed as it hit the left upright.
Northern was forced to punt on its next possession. Carroll gained 28 yards on its first play and came up with a first-and-goal at Northern's nine yard line just four plays later. The Saints closed out their first-half scoring with a nine-yard pass from Emmert to Morris. The Saints' attempt for a two-point conversion failed, but the Lights trailed 19-0.
"I just think that in the first half, it could very well have been 7 to nothing at half time if we hadn't give up two on special plays," Currie said. "There was the opening kickoff return, and we gave them the first down with 12 guys on the field and they went on to score after the missed field goal.
"It would have been a pretty tight ball game then and that would have given us a pretty good lift," Currie said. "We would have played them pretty good in the second half, too."
In the first drive of the second half, Northern's defenders stymied the Saints on three straight plays and forced the punt. Brenden Dennehy called for the fair catch and let the ball slip through his arms as he ran up among several Carroll defenders. A Saint grabbed the errant ball and was stopped on the Lights' 36 yard line.
On its second play from scrimmage, Carroll lost the handle on the ball and the fumble was recovered by Northern's Steve Spangler at the Saints' 33. Scott Ramsey gained seven yards on a pitch left from Kerkes who then looked to gain a first down on a keeper off right tackle with under 11 minutes to play. A holding call against the Lights forced Northern into a third and 11. Northern had to punt after Kerkes was sacked for a nine-yard loss on the next play.
Walters nearly intercepted an Emmert pass with a clear shot at Carroll's end zone after the Saints picked up two first downs, but dropped the ball. Another incomplete pass went off the hands of a Northern defender and Carroll was again forced to punt.
Northern had to start at its own 4 yard line, but quickly moved the ball to the 22 on three plays. The offense stalled and the Lights punted from their own 28.
It took Carroll three minutes to move the ball down field, where they scored on a 4-yard dive off left tackle by Wall.
Northern set up a solid wedge on the kickoff and returned the ball to its own 31. On their second play from scrimmage the Lights picked up 31 yards on a pass from Chris Jackson to Smith. Crawford gained seven yards on a pitch from Jackson, who had come in for Kerkes, and another two on a dive over left tackle. Northern got a first-and-10 at Carroll's 24 yard line on a three-yard carry by Chad Olsen as the quarter ended.
The Saints took over on downs at its own 33 after Northern was unable to capitalize on its favorable field position.
Carroll managed just one first down on a 13-yard gain by Fitzsimmons and was forced to punt. Dennehy took the punt at his own six and returned it out to the 25, but a clipping penalty moved the ball back to Northern's four. Northern got a first down on a 20-yard pass from Jackson to Smith. Woodward followed that with a fingertip catch for a 15-yard pickup. Northern then stalled out and had to punt.
Carroll moved the ball down the field, but coughed it up on a first-and-goal run over the left side. Walters recovered the fumble, as Northern stopped another drive.
The Lights moved the ball to their own 22 before having to punt with 1:36 to go in the game. The Lights downed the ball at the 50 and Carroll began its final drive with backup quarterback Robb Latrielle at the helm. Three plays later Carroll closed out the scoring with Wall's 33-yard gallop and Crites' third PAT.
The Lights host Dickinson State of North Dakota at 1 p.m. Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
Carroll 33, MSU-Northern 0
Carroll - Health Wall 97 kickoff return (Rhett Crites kick), 14:36
Carroll - Mike Morris 1 run (kick failed), 14:14
Carroll - Morris 9 pass from J.D. Emmert (pass failed), 10:48
Carroll - Wall 4 run (Crites kick), 2:51
Carroll - Wall 33 run (Crites kick), 2:51
RUSHING Carroll, Mike Morris 15-97, Heath Wall 8-82. Tim Bowman 3-7, J.D. Emmert 6-(-7). MSU-Northern, Dan Yeager 3-21, Ryan Utterback 5-16, Travis Crawford 4-12, Chris Jackson 5-10, Scott Ramsey 3-6, Chad Olsen 1-2, Josh Larson 1-1, Brandon Kerkes 11-(-15).
PASSING Carroll, J.D. Emmert 21-28-0 219. MSU-Northern, Brandon Kerkes 6-14-0 68, Chris Jackson 2-5-1 33.
RECEIVING Carroll, Casey FitzSimmons 6-96, Nick Carrell 4-25, Mike Morris 3-29, Mark Gallik 3-25, Heath Wall 1-17, Justin Wigen 1-11, Matt Garreffa 1-6, D.J. Dearcorn 1-6, Quinn Erwin 1-4. MSU-Northern, Andy Smith 5-72, Tanner Woodward 1-14, Travis Crawford 1-9, Scott Ramsey 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS None