Lights host top-ranked Saints
To be very blunt, the Montana State University-Northern football team isn't slow, the Lights just aren't as fast as the Carroll College Fighting Saints.
But don't feel bad for Northern -there are very few teams as fast the defending NAIA national champions.
Insert any cliche for speed you want - speed kills, need for speed, speed to burn - whatever, the Saints have got plenty of it.
The Lights will get a chance to sample some of that speed when they face the Saints in front of a statewide audience on Saturday as part of a Omega TV television doubleheader at Blue Pony Stadium.
Taking on the No. 1 ranked team in NAIA this season will be a daunting task for head coach Walt Currie and his youthful Light squad. Carroll drilled the Lights last year in both of their meetings by scores of 37-0 and 47-14.
While the Saints lost some key players off of last year's squad including former Chester standout and current NFL player Casey Fitzsimmons, the Saints might even be better now that several young starters have one year more of experience.
"They're definitely the number one team in the country for a reason," Currie said. "They've only had one close game and that was with Montana Tech."
Indeed, Carroll survived a scare from the Diggers in a 19-16 double-overtime win in Butte. Northern is fresh off its first win of the season, a 29-22 win over Tech also in Butte.
"If they beat Tech by three and we beat Tech by seven, I guess that means we should win by four," Currie joked. "Maybe not though because they beat up on Rocky and Rocky beat up on us."
If it were only that easy of a formula for Currie.
Instead, Currie must come up with a formula to deal with a team as fast as many NCAA Division II schools.
"They have really good speed," Currie said. "It's not just one or two players, it's the whole team. They are fast and athletic."
"They are nothing but speed," said defensive coordinator Mickey Williams. "Even their linemen are fast."
Last year, Carroll tortured Williams' defense with a variety of short passes that turned into big plays.
All-conference sophomore quarterback Tyler Emmert is completely healthy after missing the second half of last season with a shoulder injury. Emmert leads a Carroll offense that is ranked third in NAIA at 495.5 yards per game. Emmert has completed 69 of 139 passes for 1,199 yards and 10 touchdowns and has only thrown a pair of interceptions.
"He's a pretty cool customer," Currie said. "For as young he is, he plays pretty mature."
Part of what makes Emmert so tough is the variety of weapons he can call on.
All-conference wide receiver Mark Gallik had more than 350 yards receiving in the two games against Northern last year and he is back to cause problems for the Lights. Thus far, Gallik leads the Frontier with 31 catches for 545 yards and four touchdowns. He averages a gaudy 17.6 yards per catch. Joining Gallik is fellow senior Zack Zawacki, who has caught 24 balls for 293 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"They're going to throw the ball," Williams said. "They like to work the outside short passes
But it doesn't stop there, running back D.J. Dearcorn leads the Frontier in rushing and touchdowns. He is big, physical back that offers a good change of pace from Carroll's passing game.
But the speed is still the main thing that concerns Williams, after all, it burned him pretty badly.
"It's still hard to defense speed," Williams said. "It forces us to try something different since we can't match their speed. You just don't have any other option."
But Carroll's speed isn't just limited to the offensive side of the ball: the defense might have a larger number of faster players.
"They might be faster defensively," Currie said. "They really rally around the football and close on ball carriers and receivers."
The stingy Saints lead the Frontier in scoring defense and team defense, allowing just 12.2 points and 247.8 yards per game. Carroll has completely shut down the vaunted UM-Western and Rocky Mountain offensive attacks.
"There aren't many weaknesses we can exploit," Currie said. "They don't blitz much because they're such good athletes that they don't need to. They just play good solid defense with very good players."
Carroll returns a pair of all-conference performers in linebacker Marcus Atkinson and cornerback Blaine Bermingham. Atkinson leads the team with 35 total tackles while Bermingham leads the Frontier in interceptions.
They are joined in their respective units by a pair of former Hi-Line stars. Former Chinook Sugarbeeter Michael Maddox is second on the team with 30 tackles and has really blossomed into a quality contributor at linebacker.
Former Havre High standout Jarrod Wirt mans the other cornerback position for the second-straight year and provides solid pass coverage.
Other contributors include defensive ends Nate Chiovaro and Matt Ventresca, former Northern linebacker Mark Nay and defensive backs Regan Mack and A.J. Porrini.
Carroll also has an outstanding kicking game led by former KG star Rhett Crites.
"They will be the best team we play this season," Currie said.
With all of that stacked against the Lights, how does Currie expect to find a way to compete, let alone win.
"I think our kids are too young to be really intimidated by Carroll," Currie said. "Most of them have never seen Carroll, so they'll just be going out and playing like it's any other team."
But Currie has preached to his players that they aren't just playing any other team, they're playing the number one team in the country.
"Basically, you have to play flawless football against good teams like this," Currie said. "If you do, you might have a chance. We have to be real disciplined on both sides of the ball."
Once again Currie will try and shorten the game by controlling the clock, thereby keeping his defense off the field, and more importantly, the Carroll offense off the field. A year ago after defeating Tech, the Saints came into Havre in the same situation with all the hoopla surrounding the Omega game and proceeded to hand it to the Lights. Currie doesn't want that to happen again.
"We can't get caught up in the hoopla with TV cameras and all that stuff," Currie said. "We need to be concerned about playing football. Carroll isn't the type of team where you can lose focus on one single play."
Saturday's game kicks off at 3 p.m. and can also be heard on 92.5 KPQX-FM.