When the Montana State University-Northern Lights convene for spring ball next April, the starting tailback position is going to be wide open and up for grabs.
Northern has good young running backs on its roster, with the likes of Willie VandenBos, who made a few nice runs during the Lights’ 42-10 trumping of Dickinson State Saturday afternoon at Blue Pony Stadium, as well as Zach McKinley out of Great Falls High and Sy Keltner of Helena.
But for the last few seasons, there’s really been little to be concerned over at running back as Stephen Silva and Justin Montelius owned the position and played it to the fullest of their abilities. Silva will leave Northern as the school’s all-time leading rusher, and holder of 17 school records, while Montelius has been a do-everything power back for the Lights the last three seasons.
And that’s why it was only fitting, in the last quarter of their last-ever home game, Silva and Montelius stole the show one more time.
Silva, who racked up 137 yards against a physical DSU defense, scored Northern’s final touchdown of the 2012 Blue Pony Stadium schedule, racing 41 yards untouched to the endzone late in the fourth quarter. Once again, he showed the blazing speed which, with Saturday’s rushing total, helped him to nearly 3,000 rushing yards in four years at Northern.
“It’s a great feeling,” Silva said of his last-ever score at home. “That feeling you have when you’re running away from defenders and you don’t see anything but green grass and the endzone in front of you. I’m really happy I got to do that one more time here. And I’m really happy we won one last game at home. This is an awesome feeling.”
Montelius scored his last-ever touchdown in Havre in a much different way. He’s known for running right through, and over defenders and he was able to do it on the first play of the fourth quarter, which gave Northern an insurmountable lead. Montelius bowled his way in from two yards out and finished the day with a work-manlike 24 yards.
“I just saw a little crease and ran through it,” the senior from Missoula said. “Today was a lot of fun. We got back into the swing of things today. We played a pretty complete game and guys were out there having fun and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
And both Silva and Montelius always played the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and they are two running backs that Northern will remember for a long time. And they’ll remember Saturday’s win over DSU for a long time too.
A powerful end
MSU-Northern senior linebacker James Chandless switched positions in the second half of the first game of the season. Chandless, who’d started for the Lights for the last three years at fullback, during the Carroll College game back in August.
And he’s done an amazing job, leading the Lights in tackles, which he did again on Saturday with eight. But in his final moments of his last home game of a great career, Chandless was given the chance to go back to doing what he did for three years for the Lights, smashing into people as a running back. Chandless toted the rock four straight times, picking up Northern’s last first down of the game, and gaining two yards on his final carry to do so.
All season, Chandless has been one of the most physical linebackers in the Frontier Conference, but in his last few moments at Blue Pony Stadium, he was paid tribute to by his team by being sent in to run over defenders one last time at home.
Mastering the sack
Senior Day was special for all nine Northern stars playing in their final game at home. But many also made a huge impact on the game itself.
One of those was senior defensive tackle Mike Carbone, who’s been on a terror as of late. Carbone racked up six solo tackles, two for loss, while also earning one sack Saturday. It was Carbone’s fourth straight game with a sack, and he now leads the Lights with six on the season.
Carbone, a 6-2, 265-pounder from Oakley, Calif., came to Northern as a highly-touted defensive end for the 2011 season, but his versatility made him a unique player to put in the middle of the defensive line.
His size allows him to play the power game and stop the run, as he’s done for much of the season, but his speed and agility allows him to rush the passer, which he’s been doing a with fervor the last few weeks. Carbone now stands at third in the Frontier Conference in sacks.
And though he only played for the Lights for two seasons, he had a major impact on the Northern defense and certainly made the most of his final home game of his career.