Montana State-University-Northern's Orin Johnson (left) tries to break free from a Rocky Mountain College defender during Saturday's Frontier Conference football game at Blue Pony Stadium.
The last couple of weeks have been all about the Montana State University-Northern offense. And with the numbers the Lights have been able to put up, rightly so. But after another high-scoring win on Saturday, the defense also stepped up and played lights out football.
On Saturday, the Frontier Conference Lights played host to the Rocky Mountain Bears at Blue Pony stadium in Havre. The Lights cruised into the win column, defeating the Bears 42-19. The win also improved the Lights to 2-3 in the conference and 2-3 overall, while the Bears dropped to 2-3 in the conference and 3-3 overall.
Stephen Silva ran over the Bears, but it was also a good outing for the Lights, as they were able to finally put a team away, and avoid a tight race at the end. But from a coaching standpoint, no lead ever presents comfort on the sideline.
“The funny thing is,” MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. “For me as a coach, they are all close games. But we played well offensively and did a lot of good things defensively.”
In fact, it was the Northern defense that allowed the Lights to run away with Saturday’s contest.
The first half was tight. The Lights jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, getting scoring receptions from Kyle Johnston and Justin Monltelius courtesy of Derek Lear. But by the time halftime rolled around the Lights lead was just two points, leading 21-19. Northern also got second quarter scores from a 53-yard Stephen Silva run, and from a 14-yard pass to Johnston. The offense was already off and running with the 28 points, but in the second half, the storyline belongs to the defense.
In the final two frames the Lights scored 14 more points, but more importantly, the Lights defense didn’t allow one more score from the Bears. Instead, they took away the big plays, stuffed the run, and came up with three turnovers. Ryan Craig recovered a third quarter fumble, while both Tanner Varner and Matt Reyant came up with third quarter interceptions for the Lights.
“It felt great to get this win,” Lights senior safety Reyant said “We knew Rocky was going to come out and throw the ball. We finally put our offensive game and our defensive game together, and the defense was able to shut them out in the second half and that was huge.
“(Turnovers) are huge,” he added. “And not just four or offense and defense, but on the opposing sideline they get down. And usually it rolls downhill, so if you can get one turnover, you can get another, and then another.”
A lot of times, teams make drastic changes to the defense at the half when they have trouble corralling a team to start. That wasn’t the case for the Lights. They played very well through the first half, but made a couple of mistakes and gave up points on crucial penalties. But holding the Bears to two field goals on two of their scoring drives, the Lights just needed to tighten up their technique at intermission, not change it.
Bryce Baker is the idealistic dual threat quarterback, using his arm and legs to hurt teams. But after he was able
able to march the offense down the field on several occasions in the first half, he struggled in the second. The Northern defense eliminated the deep threat, and forced Baker to either tuck the ball and run, or settle for the check down passes. He did rack up 211-yards in the air, but was held to just 47-yards rushing. His two interceptions came on deeper pass attempts, but the Lights were prepared.
“The defense played great and they played fast,” Samson said. “And I am happy with what they did, especially in the second half. I looked at them at the half and said ‘men they aren’t going to score again,’ and you say those things and then wonder sometimes, but they all looked me in the eye and told me not to worry. They started playing their assignments well and we got three turnovers in the second half, and really, things just started rolling like we wanted them to. And we didn’t rewrite anything, we just rehashed what we wanted to accomplish, and just did a better job in the second half.
“Last weekend was tough because the secondary gave up a couple of deep balls,” Reyant added. “But the coaches challenged us, and more importantly we challenged ourselves and we wanted to step up. We came together as a unit and were flying to the ball and made the plays.”
Jordan Van Voast 1led Northern with 11 tackles, while Josh Baum and James Chandless each grabbed 10. David Artega also had nine, while Tanner Varner finished with seven and Mike Carbone finished with six.
But the offense can’t be overlooked either.
The passing game was impressive once again, led by Lear with four more TD tosses. Lear also racked up 231 yards passing on 17 attempts. And the receivers were led by Johnston with 64 yards and two scores. Justin Montelius also grabbed 23 yards and a score, while Brandt Montelius had a four-yard score. Brandon O’Brien was good for five catches and 88 yards.
But Silva may have stepped up more than anybody. The Lights’ passing game has been down at times this season, and outshined by the attack through the air. But with 217 yards on 19 carries, and two TD jaunts, Silva stole the show. He scored from 57 yards out and erupted for a 91-yard score as well. His game opened up the passing game, and the passing game opened up the ability to run.
Overall, with the help from the defense, the Lights jumped all over the Bears and never looked back.
“We talked about it all week,” Silva said. “We wanted to get on top of them right at the beginning so that we could run everything that we wanted the rest of the game. And we did that, and we stayed on them the entire game. The offense was clicking and the defense was clicking. The defense was coming up with big stops and the offense was making big plays.”
The Lights have a bye this coming Saturday, their second of the season. Northern remains at home to face Southern Oregon on Oct. 13.