By Ryan Divish
Momentum is funny thing. It can come all at once and leave just as quickly. For the Montana State-Northern football team, they had momentum and the lead for the first 15 minutes of Saturday's game against the Rocky Mountain College Battlin' Bears in Billings.
But as easily as it came, it was gone. Rocky reeled off 45 unanswered points including 21 points in the second quarter to steal the Lights early momentum and take control in the game.
"We had all the momentum early," said Northern head coach Walt Currie. "We just couldn't hold onto it."
In the game's first 15 minutes, Northern watched as Rocky botched a punt and then lost their best defensive player to a knee injury. The Lights' defensive then came up with a huge goal line stand. Rocky had first and goal from the Northern 3-yard line. But the Lights defensive stopped Rocky's four consecutive rushing plays.
Taking over on their own 1-yard line, Northern drove the length of the field and capped the 16-play, 99-yard drive with a seven-yard Bill Templer scamper for a touchdown. David Knight missed the extra point but Northern appeared to be firmly in control.
However, Rocky's "fun-n-gun" offense exploded for 21 points in the second quarter. The Battlin' Bears got on the board with 7:09 left in the second quarter as Cory Albin scored on a 1-yard run. Jeremy Duprey added the extra point and the Bears never looked back.
Rocky quarterback Benton Johnson found Zach Waitman over the middle for a pair of touchdown passes right before halftime. Johnson finished the game completing 26 of 50 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns.
"They just throw so darn much," Currie said. "It was hard to get any pressure on him. They really controlled the ball and time possessions."
The combination of Johnson's short drops and his receivers short patterns allowed only a pair of Northern sacks. And Rocky was able to convert on a several key third-down situations.
"The just seemed to get just enough to get a first down and keep possession," Currie said.
Northern struggled to find an offensive rhythm after that first drive and had some injuries to key personnel.
All-conference tailback Travis Crawford had hoped to play but he was still fighting the effects of a hairline fracture in his leg. All-conference wide reciever Tanner Woodward also joined Crawford on the sideline after injuring his foot in the first quarter. Senior quarterback Brandon Kerkes went down early in the first quarter with a twisted ankle. Kerkes would return in the game but the injury greatly affected his mobility.
Rocky also came up with some key stops, particularly on three occasions when Northern went for it on fourth down. Those three attempts resulted in a sack and two stops for loss and, more importantly, 17 points for Rocky.
"We went for it on fourth down a few times," Currie said. "You have to at some point and we just didn't execute."
Northern as a team only managed 244 yards in total offense. Kerkes threw for 146 yards on 13 of 32 passing. Templer was the Lights' leading rusher with 37 yards on 11 carries.
Northern, 0-2 on the season, 0-1 in conference, will look to rebound in its home opener Saturday against Montana Tech.
"We haven't played up the potential we're capable of," Currie said. "We can't make any excuses. These are two teams that we beat last year and two teams, I thought we should have beat this year."
MSU-N (0-1, 0-2) - Bill Templer 7 run (kick failed), 0-11-1Q.
Rocky Mountain College (1-2, 1-2) - Cory Albin 1 run (Jeremy Duprey kick), 7:09-2Q; Zach Waitman 27 pass from Benton Johnson (Duprey kick), 2:30-2Q; Waitman 21 pass from Johnson (Duprey kick), 0:49-2Q; Albin 4 run (Duprey kick), 14:37-4Q; Duprey 24 FG, 12:06-4Q; Matt Hagedorn 1 pass from Johnson (Duprey kick), 8:31-4Q; Adam Sanchez 2 run (Duprey kick), 4:34-4Q.
RUSHING - MSU-N: Bill Templer 11-37, Chad Olsen 5-24, Mitch Wilkins 6-(-22), Ryan Utterback 7-19, Chris Hess 2-(-12), Scott Ramsey 6-0, Brandon Kerkes 5-(-3), Richard Jarvis 2-15. Rocky: Cory Albin 14-43, Mitch Cowan 1-(-13), Justin Venn 3-5, Mike Vicars 1-1, Benton Johnson 10-11, Adam Sanchez 3-19.
PASSING - MSU-N: Brandon Kerkes 13-32-0, 145 yards; Mitch Wilkins 5-13-1, 20 yards; Chris Hess 2-2-0, 21 yards. Rocky: Benton Johnson 26-50-0, 321 yards; Adam Sanchez 1-4-0, 20 yards.
RECEIVING - MSU-N: Scott Ramsey 4-25, Clint Herrera 3-41, Bill Templer 3-27, Kris Marshall 2-31, Ryan Utterback 2-6, Nick Arnold 5-38, Chad Olsen 1-18. Rocky: B.J. Charlton 11-137, Cory Albin 3-32, Zach Waitman 4-84, Matt Hagedorn 1-1, Luke Keulta 1-3, Jon Owen 2-24, Joe Anthony 3-23, Matt Kimmet 1-3, Mike Hanson 1-34.