By Ryan Divish
If the Montana State University-Northern football team is looking for challenges, they certainly have a few in the following weeks. With two games remaining in the regular season, the Lights will face the top two teams in the Frontier Conference in as many weeks.
Northern will travel to Helena to take on conference leader and nationally ranked Carroll College on Saturday. It's a difficult task for Northern, who was blanked 37-0 by the Saints on Sept. 28 in Havre.
"We like challenges and Carroll definitely presents a challenge," said Lights head coach Walt Currie. "They have a ton of speed and it showed in the first game. We're going to try and do a few things different to negate it."
Carroll's speed isn't limited to one side of the football. Both the offense and defense units can fly and they caused Northern a myriad of problems earlier this season.
"We're going to try and attack their speed on defense," Currie said. "They just came in waves. We're going to try and use their aggressiveness against them."
While Currie wasn't specific, normally counter plays, misdirection, screen passes and draw plays usually take advantage of hard charging defenses. Those happen to be some of things that Northern excels at offensively.
"We didn't do a very good job the first game," Currie said. "They brought so much heat we couldn't handle it."
Northern, 1-7 on the season and 1-5 in conference, will start senior Brandon Kerkes at quarterback, but freshman Mitch Wilkins will continue to see playing time.
Defensively, the Lights seemed to look a step slow against Carroll's offense. But then again, most of the conference has looked a step slow against Carroll offense.
Wide receiver Mark Gallik torched the Lights for three long touchdown receptions where he essentially ran away from the secondary. His fellow wide receivers Elijah Steenhoek and Matt Gareffa also have that burst. If that doesn't make the Saints tough, factor in all-American tight end Casey FitzSimmons, who having another solid year.
Perhaps the Saint's best offensive player this season has been redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Emmert, who plays like anything but. Emmert leads the conference in passing efficiency and is threat in the air and on the ground.
"I think he may be better than his older brother (former Saint quarterback J.D. Emmert)," Currie said. "He's definitely faster and he makes great decisions."
Northern's problems on defense may have increased two-fold. The Lights starting safeties Brendan Dennehy and Chris Jackson failed to show up for Thursday's practice. Defensive coordinator Mickey Williams didn't think that Dennehy or Jackson would be allowed to make the trip. If that is the case, Northern will use wide receivers Nick Arnold and Kris Marshall as its safeties.
The Lights and Saints will kick-off at 1 p.m. at Carroll's Nelson Stadium in Helena. The game can be heard on 92.5 FM-KPQX.