By Ryan Divish
You can't teach speed.
It may be a cliche, but it doesn't make it any less true. And if you could, Montana State University-Northern head football coach Walt Currie would have tried that long ago.
Instead, his team was blitzkrieged by a faster Carroll College Fighting Saints team on Saturday. Carroll, ranked 10th in the NAIA, sprinted to a 24-0 halftime lead, and never slowed down, defeating Northern 37-0 at Blue Pony Stadium.
"They had just a little bit more team speed," Currie said. "We had tough time with that."
In particular, Northern had a tough time dealing with the speed of Carroll's wide receivers.
On Carroll's second series of the game, quarterback Tyler Emmert connected with junior wide receiver Mark Gallik on a slant pattern. Gallik burst past the Northern secondary for a 56-yard touchdown to give the Saints a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.
That one play was a preview of things to come. Twice more, Gallik took short passes and raced past Northern defenders for touchdowns. However, one was shortened to just a 50-yard gain after a holding penalty. Gallik finished the day with six catches for 142 yards.
"Gallik has some great speed," said Carroll head coach Mike Van Diest. "Our offense did a nice job of picking up the blitzes and allowing Gallik to get open."
But it wasn't just Gallik. Carroll's entire offense seemed to get into an early rhythm. Emmert, a redshirt freshman, played like anything but. He showed poise in the face of a relentless Northern pass rush and completed several short passes early.
"It's important that we let him have some success early," Van Diest said. "We wanted to have some passes that he could complete and get his feet under him, so he didn't feel like he had to win the game himself."
Conversely, Northern's offense couldn't establish any sort of rhythm. After being pinned deep in its own territory, Northern didn't manage a first down until its third drive of the game and that was due to a late hit personal foul penalty. Northern drives fizzled several times from dropped passes, something that wasn't a problem in their previous game.
"We just dropped the football," Currie said. "Plain and simple. We didn't make the type plays we did against Tech."
After Gallik's first touchdown, Carroll added a 26-yard Rhett Crites field goal and a D.J. Dearcorn 1-yard touchdown run to take a 17-0 lead. Then Northern mounted its best drive of the half. The Lights got the ball to the Saints' 36-yard line. But Brandon Kerkes' pass to Bill Templer was just out of reach, forcing the Lights to punt.
The Saints promptly answered as Gallik took a short pass over the middle and went untouched for an 80-yard touchdown. But a holding call, which had to do with Gallik being untouched, reduced it to a 50-yard gain. Still, six plays later, Carroll got into the end zone on a 9-yard Heath Wall TD run.
Trailing 24-0 at the half, Northern looked for something to get better in the second half. Instead, it got worse. Not only were they losing the game, they started losing players. With one starter, Brendan Scott, already on the sidelines in street clothes, Northern's defensive secondary dwindled from seven to four.
Starting cornerback Nathaniel Walters was the first to go down. After returning a kickoff, Walters appeared to be down and the whistle had blown when a Carroll player jumped on the pile of players and speared Walters' knee with his helmet. The play was questionable but drew no flag. It did draw Walters a pair of crutches. He suffered significant damage to the knee and is out indefinitely.
Walters wasn't alone on the bench. Brent Finneman left the game next with a separated shoulder, starting free safety Brenden Dennehy was knocked out with a hip pointer, and backup safety Chris Jackson was forced to play with a broken foot.
"It's not what you want when you have to play Western next weekend," Currie said.
As Northern was losing players, Carroll was racking up points. Crites, a KG grad, sandwiched a pair of field goals around Gallik's other touchdown reception to give the Saints their second conference victory of the season.
Even after halftime, the Lights' offense couldn't get on track. Carroll's swarming defense held the Lights to 133 yards of total offense in the game with their longest play from scrimmage being a 13-yard pass from Kerkes to Nick Arnold. Kerkes finished the game 11 of 30 for 65 yards.
"It's probably about the worst they've played," Currie said of his offense. "We just got beat up on. We didn't play very well."
Northern, 1-3 in the Frontier Conference, 1-4 overall, will try to regroup for next week's matchup against UM-Western.
"They're pretty subdued," Currie said of his team. "It's no fun to get embarrassed at home in front of a big crowd and on statewide television."