If the idea of home field advantage, and the idea of getting hometown calls by officials is a legitimate assumption by teams, don’t tell the coaches and players of the Montana State University-Northern Lights football program. After the way the last two home games have gone for the Lights, they might start to wonder what the deal is with all of the flags flying through the air and across their home turf.
Two weeks ago the Lights earned a 46-39 win over the UM-Western Bulldogs at home. But after a total of 18 flags got thrown against both teams, and after several controversial calls by the refs, some fans left wondering, what if?
The Lights had two, thought to be touchdowns, taken away last weekend. Saturday’s win over the Rocky Mountain Bears at the Blue Pony stadium in Havre wasn’t as dramatic in that sense, but right or wrong with the call, the officials still gave the fans plenty to question and to holler about.
“The last two weeks the offense has been able to overcome big penalties,” MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. “And I thought today that the defense was able to overcome those big penalties better than they have. We just have way too many right now, and I can’t say one way or the other what I think, but it just seems like sometimes we don’t get many breaks. But when you win, what can you say?”
On six penalties, the Lights gave up 89 yards, 11 more yards than last weekend on two less penalties. And it wasn’t necessarily the number of penalties called that kept fans riled up. The Bears were penalized 10 times for 84-yards, but the calls that came against the Lights clearly played a role, putting a halt to some offensive drives for Northern, as well as keeping one very controversial offensive drive alive for the Bears.
The first really disputed calls came in the second quarter.
It was the second series of the frame by the Bears offense, and they were attempting to chew large chunks of the field after starting on their own 35-yard line and trailing 21-6. On third and three, the Lights were flagged 15-yards on pass interference, on what looked to be a receiver going down without even incidental contact. On the very next play, the Lights got hit with another pass interference call deep down field on a jump ball, and to make things worse, when trying to argue their case to the officials, the Light took another hit, this time in the form of unsportsmanlike conduct.
In a flash, the Bears went from their own 42 all the way to the Lights’ 13-yard line, and the result, an eventual touchdown run by the Bears on a fake field goal, and a slimmer 21-12 lead by the Lights.
“In that series we got called on the penalty and then lost our cool,” Samson said. “We have to learn to just forget about penalties and realize they are going to be a part of the game. But it was a little disheartening because there were so many big penalties and sometimes that just kills us.”
Fortunately for the Lights, their composure was regained, and they continued to play hard on both sides of the ball. The game was suddenly in arms reach for the Bears, but not for long as the Lights defense allowed just one more first half touchdown, and no second half points at all.
Credit the Lights for adjusting to the tightly called game, but still playing hardnosed football and earning the dominating win, as they rolled, 42-19. But keep an eye on the Lights and the penalties called the next few weeks, as they enter maybe the toughest stretch of their schedule. The Lights will host Southern Oregon in two weeks, but then get back on the road for a very tough stretch at Carroll and at Montana Tech. The Lights still have to host Dickinson State and take on Rocky once again on the road, giving the Lights five very dangerous situations if penalties come into play.
“We also need to clean things up. We have some tough games coming up and we can’t be giving them more chances. The second half of the schedule is especially tough and there isn’t anybody in the nation with a stretch of games like that,” Samson said.