The Montana State University-Northern football team needs a win. The Lights want a win and not just for this season, but for the future of the program.
And there’s no better place and time to do that than Saturday when the Lights play their final home game of the season. Northern will host the Dickinson State Blue Hawks Saturday at 12 p.m. inside Blue Pony Stadium on what should be a very emotional se
Nine Lights, including NAIA All-American’s Stephen Silva, Kyle Johnston and Brock Hyder, along with James Chandless, a four-year starter, Matt Reyant and Justin Montelius, two more four-year starters, Mike Carbone, Ralpheal Huizar and Johnny Figueroa will all be honored before Saturday’s game, a game in which the Lights desperately want to win for a myriad of reasons.
Northern will not only want to send the senior class, a class which is made up of all impact players and true student-athletes, out with one final victory at home, but they want to snap a three-game losing streak, win at home for the last time this season and start the build towards 2013.
Northern also wants to win this game badly because the Blue Hawks edged the Lights 21-20 back in early September in Dickinson, N.D., in a game Northern led 21-7 in the fourth quarter.
Since that game in Dickinson, MSU-N (2-6, 2-6) and DSU (1-7, 2-7) have combined for just three more wins all season, so Saturday’s game is an opportunity to get back some much-needed momentum.
“Neither us or Dickinson is playing for much at this point, other than that word pride,” Northern head coach Mark Samson said. “We’ve both struggled at times during this season and we’ve had a few tough games in a row.
“I know, for us, the kids want to still come out and win this game pretty badly,” he added. “Our kids have kept their heads up through what has been a pretty disappointing season and I think they are going to come out and play very hard on Saturday. They still want to win football games and we want to try and get back on a roll before the season ends and go into the offseason on a positive note.”
To say the Lights and Blue Hawks have been struggling as of late would be pretty accurate.
Northern is coming home off a brutal three-game stretch where the Lights lost to now No. 14 Southern Oregon at home, then No. 6 Carroll College in Helena, and last week, they suffered a heartbreaking loss to No. 7 Montana Tech in Butte. In that game, Northern’s defense blanked the Orediggers for the final 30 minutes, but it wasn’t enough to get over the hump in what was a great football game.
So, MSU-N has played three of the best teams in not only the Frontier, but in all of NAIA football the last three games, and all three of those teams could be headed for the playoffs in a few weeks.
“Last week was tough,” Samson said. “We had chances in the second half and we just didn’t quite get there. Our defense played a heck of a football game against a very good Montana Tech team. Just a few mistakes hurt us.”
Mistakes have been costly to the Lights all season long.
Northern’s offense has put up big numbers this season, with Derek Lear second in all of the NAIA in total offense and fourth in passing. Silva has had big moments this season, but has rushed for only 74 yards in his last three games, while Brandon O’Brien and Johnston have continued to put up big numbers. Orin Johnson returned from injury at Tech to lead the Lights in receiving as well.
But as good as the Lights are at times, turnovers and penalties have set them back. Northern is -7 in turnover margin this season, with 13 interceptions and six lost fumbles. That’s last in the Frontier, and the Lights have also been the most penalized team in the conference in 2012.
DSU hasn’t been a whole lot better, and to make matters worse, the Blue Hawk offense has really sputtered, especially since starting quarterback Dave Valesquez was lost for the season with a knee injury.
DSU comes to Havre for the first time since 2006 averaging just over 10 points per game, and over the course of their last six contests, the Blue Hawks have averaged just one offensive touchdown per outing. DSU was shut out at home last week in a 14-0 loss to Eastern Oregon and the Blue Hawks are last in the Frontier total offense and passing, and surprisingly, they are just sixth in rushing.
“They seem to be struggling to put points on the board right now,” Samson said of the Blue Hawks. “A lot of that has to do with their quarterback going down and it looks like teams have really stacked the box against them to take away the run. But we’re not going to take anything for granted. We know when they get the run game going they are very good, they have two or three kids who are strong, solid running backs and they have a couple of wide receivers who can hurt you if you don’t play sound defensive football.
“We made some really bad mistakes defensively against them in the fourth quarter down there, and they made us pay,” he continued. “So we know we have to come out ready to play good defense for 40 minutes against them.”
Starting in pace of Valesquez will be sophomore Matt Harkless (6-1, 190). He’s a threat to run, and is a good compliment to running back’s Presley Straub and Kyle Stanton, both from Montana. The duo combines to average 100 yards per game on the ground, while wide receiver Tanner Leak is a dangerous target on the outside. DSU does have a big, and veteran offensive line, led by monster right tackle Carl Dynneson, a former Sidney Eagle who stands 6-8 and weighs 330 pounds.
And while MSU-N will look to shut down a struggling DSU offense, the Lights also hope to get their offense back on track against a super-young, but talented Blue Hawk defense. Dickinson, which employs a 3-4 scheme, starts five sophomores or true freshman. The Blue Hawks are last in the Frontier against the run, but are first in the league, surrendering just 181 passing yards per game. Senior linebacker Jay Grosz (6-2, 200) leads the team in tackles, while junior nose tackle Colton Hill (6-2, 300) is a force up front and has 10 tackles for loss on the season.
“Defensively, they (Blue Hawks) get after you,” Samson said. “Dickinson has traditionally always been a very physical defense and even though they are young, they still are in my opinion.”
Still, Northern hopes to get Silva, Montelius and the run game going as the Lights have really been pass heavy the last three games. Lear has attempted an average of 37 passes per game over the course of MSU-N’s last three losses. And defensively, the Lights will look to capitalize on an outstanding second-half performance against Tech. Chandless continues to have a remarkable season at linebacker with 79 tackles, which is second in the Frontier, while Carbone and Ryan Craig have combined for 9.5 sacks this season. Jordan Van Voast, Josh Baum and Reyant are also all in the Top 15 in the league in total tackles.
And with a defense hungry for more, and hopefully an offense which will get back on track after scoring just 27 points in its last eight quarters of football, the Lights could certainly make their final home game of 2012 a special one, especially considering the emotions that will be running high on senior day.
“This has been a great group of seniors,” Samson said. “They have all done a lot for our program, and this being our last game at home, we certainly want to come out and play well.
“As a whole, we need to come out and play hard and with a lot of intensity for 40 minutes,” he added. “The goal right now is to end this season on a positive note and build for next year, and that starts with this game against Dickinson State.”
Northern’s nine seniors will be honored before Saturday’s game against Dickinson State, with kickoff set for 12 p.m. at Blue Pony Stadium. The Lights close out the season with a trip to Rocky Mountain College next Saturday. DSU finishes its season next Saturday at Carroll.
Last Home Game
MSU-Northern Lights (2-6, 2-6) vs Dickinson St. Blue Hawks (1-7, 2-7)
Saturday at 12 p.m.
at Blue Pony Stadium
Radio: 92.5 KPQX FM
Internet: www.havredailynews.com or www.msun.edu/athletics
See the Game Day inside today's Havre Daily News