With the game on the line, Lights made things happen
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George Ferguson From the fringe...
There was a lot of complaining going on late last weekend on message boards and blogs. The complaining was coming from University of Montana and Montana State University fans about the Grizzly and Bobcat offenses, and how both teams were lucky to escape with victories this past weekend. I've always believed you have to have a little luck in order to win football games, so I cut the Cats and Griz some slack for their performances this week. A win is win. But there was absolutely no reason to complain about what the Montana State University-Northern Lights did on Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium. In short, the No. 16 Lights made their own luck when they came back to beat the Rocky Mountain College Battlin' Bears 38-37 Saturday afternoon. First, the Lights weren't given anything. Rocky made a strong case to win the game, racking up over 600 yards of total offense, scoring 37 points and committing no turnovers in the process. Indeed, the Bears did almost everything right against the Lights Saturday. But Northern did just a little bit more, and being able to come back the way the Lights did is a sign of a team coming into its own. Before the Lights could engineer their 80-yard three-minute game-winning drive against RMC, they had to take care of a few other things. Northern's defense, with its back against the wall for much of the day, came up with several critical stops when it counted the most. Sophomore Christian Lehnert came up with the only sack of Rocky star quarterback Kasey Peters on a key third down in the third quarter just after the Lights had cut the Rocky lead from 27-14 to 27-21. Northern also came up with another big defensive stand in the fourth quarter. Trailing 37-31, the Lights couldn't convert around midfield to keep a game-winning drive alive midway through the fourth stanza, but a good punt by Kyle Finneman and a stellar stand by the young MSU-N defense eventually forced the Bears into trying a long Bjorn Nelson field goal. The kick wound up short and to the right, and kept it a one-possession game with 3:23 to play. "Our defense had their hands full today," MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said after the thrilling win. "But they also made some big stops, kids stepped up and made big plays on defense when we needed them. I was really proud of the way they hung in there." And the MSU-N defense's ability to hang in on Saturday eventually gave the Lights one last chance at a victory. Northern's final drive was anything but luck as it turns out. The Lights went 12 plays and 80 yards, all passes, and even overcame two straight holding penalties in the process. On the drive, MSU-N senior quarterback Jeff Van Nest only threw one incomplete pass, and his touchdown pass to Matt Stuart was his third of the day, and perhaps the biggest of his career. All of the MSU-N receivers who caught passes on the drive, Stuart, Coda Tchida and Kyle Kercher can be credited with making veteran plays as well. All of the catches gained positive yards, and most were at or near the first-down markers. The MSU-N offensive line also deserved big kudos for the game-winner. Despite the two flags, the line gave Van Nest plenty of protection and allowed time for routes to develop, something which is critical for a team to execute a two-minute offense. The play-calling was also perfect in the final minutes. The MSU-N coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Kyle Samson had the right calls as the Lights went down the field and Van Nest picked apart the Rocky defense. The drive, as it will come to be known, will go down in MSU-N history, frankly because the program is still relatively young and there haven't been too many moments like the one which unfolded on Saturday afternoon. But it will also go down in history because the 2009 Northern team grew up before our very eyes on Saturday. On offense, defense and special teams, the Lights started to come of age, and they did it when it mattered most. The Lights came together in a time of adversity, they stopped a potent offense from scoring on more than one occasion while playing from behind on the scoreboard. The Lights did the little things right, like Finneman's final punt flipping the field on the Bears, a hand up just a little higher to block Nelson's final field goal try as time expired and of course, they executed the offense to perfection when it mattered the most, when the game was on the line. And none of that was luck, all of it was execution. "I am just really proud of this football team," Mark Samson said. "What we were able to do at the end of the game, it was very impressive. Kids made plays when they had to, and I really think as a team, we grew up a lot today." It's too early to tell just how far Northern will take this season, or even what Saturday's win will do long term. But one thing is for sure, MSU-N's comeback against Rocky proves the Lights can achieve exactly what they want this season. It proves Northern can win a game under the most difficult of circumstances. It proves the Lights can go down the field and score when they have to score. And it also proves the Lights have the makings of a very good football team, because when it mattered most, the Lights didn't get lucky, they made their own luck.