Northern tackles Carroll College
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A wise man once said, "Once game does not a season make."
Whether it was a football coach or a Chicago Cubs fan who first uttered that statement, remains to be seen. But it doesn't make it any less true especially for Montana State University-Northern football coach Walt Currie.
Last week, the Lights defeated Montana Tech 18-13, for perhaps the biggest win in Northern's revival of football. But as important as that game was, Currie is reminding his team that they have seven games remaining in the 2002 season, including Saturday's game with 10th-ranked Carroll College.
"We're just trying to stay on them and keep them focused on the next game," Currie said. "You can't dwell on the last game, whether it's a win or a loss. Either way you have to move on."
It's not that the Lights are looking past Carroll. Nobody in the Frontier Conference looks past a matchup against Carroll. The Fighting Saints are the defending conference champions and have been a force in the Frontier for the past 10 years. That, plus the fact that the game is being televised statewide by Omega Television Productions and that the Lights have never beaten Carroll since reinstating the program, should offer plenty of incentive for Northern.
"We know it's a big game for us," Currie said. "There is going to be a lot of people there watching."
Don't think for a second that the Fighting Saints are looking past Northern.
"I picked Northern to be one of the top teams in the league," said Carroll head coach Mike Van Diest. "They have so much experience returning."
Carroll, 1-1 on the season, 1-0 in the Frontier, is coming off a bye week. Besides having the extra week to prepare for Northern, it gave the Saints some time to heal up.
All-conference defensive tackle Tyler Maxwell, who had knee surgery before Carroll's loss to Central Washington, will be back. Also starting cornerback and Havre High grad Jarrod Wirt will play after separating his collarbone in the Central game.
While Carroll will be at full strength on Saturday, Northern could still be missing some key players at their skill positions.
All-conference wide receiver Tanner Woodward is highly unlikely to play on Saturday, Currie said. Woodward, who is suffering from a stress fracture in his foot, tried to practice this week, but couldn't make it all the way through a practice. It will be a game time decision if Woodward can go.
Also, all-conference and starting tailback Travis Crawford is still questionable for the game. Crawford, still suffering the effects from a hairline break in his leg, did dress for last week's game but did not play.
"He still isn't quite there yet," Currie said. "He thought he would heal immediately. But he didn't and his timing is still a bit off."
Despite the key injuries, Northern still won last weekend. Thanks to a near flawless game offensively and a swarming defense. They will have to duplicate that performance on Saturday.
"We have to take care of the ball," Currie said. "We can't turn it over that's critical. And we just have to continue to gain positive yardage on every play."
Offensively, Northern has been led by quarterback Brandon Kerkes. The senior from Centerville earned Frontier Conference player of the week honors for his steady play last weekend. Kerkes will need to play with same poise against a talented, if not experienced, Carroll defense.
The Saints lost all-everything linebacker Joe Horne, who Currie called the toughest 190-pound player he had ever seen, to graduation. The Saints also had key losses in the secondary.
That inexperience is something that concerns Van Diest against Northern's wing back offense.
"We've got to read our keys," Van Diest said. "With all the misdirection, you can't watch the quarterback or a running back. You have to focus on your keys."
The Saints' inexperience isn't limited to the defense. Carroll is one of two teams in the conference that started the season with a new quarterback.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Emmert took over the quarterback duties from his brother J.D. and has shown flashes of brilliance. But he also has been, like most first-year quarterbacks, inconsistent at times.
"Tyler's going to have some ups and downs," Van Diest said. "That we have to expect."
However, Carroll has surrounded Emmert with experienced skill players. Tailback Heath Wall returns after sharing time last year and Carroll has one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the Frontier. But, the biggest weapon in the Carroll arsenal is all-American tight end Casey FitzSimmons. The Chester grad is a definite threat anytime he's on the field.
"FitzSimmons is their best player," Currie said. "He's a kid that somehow always finds a way to get open. He's a real fine football player."
Said Lights defensive coordinator Mickey Williams: "We need to know where he's at anytime he's on the field."
Northern will try to put enough pressure on Emmert to keep him uncomfortable. It's a formula that had some success last season against Carroll.
"Their defensive front is very strong," Van Diest said. "They play a lot of games up front. They twist and stunt. They are just relentless. I think Kino (Detrick) had three sacks against us and (Bomont) Sommerfeld was in the backfield every other play. We need to make sure of our assignments on the offensive line."
Saturday's game is crucial for Northern all conference games are crucial.
Despite the high from last weekend's win, Currie points out there are six conference games remaining and that their goal wasn't to just win one game this season.
"We won a game," Currie said. "I don't want them to forget that, but we haven't proved anything yet."
Saturday's game kicks off at 3 p.m. and will be televised by Omega Television Productions on channel 43. The game can also be heard on KPQX- FM 92.5.