Frontier Conference Notebook
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In what seemed like the blink of an eye Saturday, the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers NAIA playoff hopes were gone.
Leading Carroll College 12-0 in the first quarter, the Saints ripped off 49 unanswered points to leave LaGrande, Ore., with a 49-12 win, and in their wake, left the Mounties at 0-3 on the season and 0-2 in Frontier Conference play.
Hopes were high for EOU this season after going 7-4 a year ago. The Mounties started the year ranked No. 20 in the country and returned an all-american quarterback in junior Chris Ware.
But EOU's defense, which played great a year ago, has struggled in 2010. The Mounties' defense is giving up a shade over 40 points per game, and just under 500 yards of offense. No matter how potent the EOU offense can be, those numbers just won't get it done.
And with an 0-3 start to the season, the Mounties are almost all but out of the Frontier Conference title race, as well as having much chance to earn an at-large berth to the playoffs.
EOU welcomes MSU-Northern to Community Stadium on Saturday, and despite the Mounties recent struggles, Lights' head coach Mark Samson is well aware of how good EOU can be on its home turf.
"It's a hard trip," Samson said on Saturday. "It's a long trip and then you have to play against a team who is pretty good at home. We haven't been able to win their in a couple of years."
The Lights will head to LaGrande looking to rebound from their first loss of the season, a heartbreaking 17-13 setback at home against Montana Tech.
Northern was also drubbed at EOU a year ago, but the Lights are bringing a different defense with them this year.
Northern is leading the Frontier and is in the Top 5 in the NAIA in four different defensive categories after two games. The Lights are giving up just 13 points and 270 yards so far this season, and they'll hope to stop EOU's dual-threat this weekend. Ware may be the focal point of the Mountie offense, but junior running back Kevin Sampson is leading the league in rushing at around 117 yards per game.
Northern stuffed Tech's running game a week ago, and the Lights are getting great production from their front seven. Transfer A.J. Pasalo is leading the league in total tackles, while senior safety Casey Varner has a league-best four interceptions.
The Lights, among other Frontier teams are honoring former Eastern Oregon receiver Dylan Steigers by wearing a decal on the back of their helmet. Steigers, a Missoula native, was killed after suffering a head injury during EOU's spring scrimmage this past year.
Carroll College, ranked No. 3 in the latest NAIA poll, is showing it still loves to do what it does best — pound the football and wear opponents down. Carroll lost former Blue Pony standout and starting quarterback Gary Wagner to a shoulder injury two weeks ago, and while junior Dane Broadhead has seen plenty of action in his career, the Saints took to the ground against EOU. Carroll rushed for almost 300 yards and dared the Mounties to stop its three-pronged attack of John Camino, Jeff Deal and Chance Demarais.
Carroll (2-0) will now visit winless UM-Western Saturday in Dillon.
With two teams needling a win, it was Rocky Mountain College which finally made a big play in the fourth quarter. The Bears beat Western 33-31 last Saturday in Billings, and this time backup quarterback Mark Desin came through.
In Rocky's first two games, Desin threw fourth-quarter INTs which cost the Bears wins at Dickinson State and at Carroll, but the Bears avoided such disasters against Western
After three starts Desin will likely start at wide receiver this Saturday when the Bears play at Tech. That's because NAIA All-American Kasey Peters is eligible to return after missing three games due to NAIA eligibility issues.
It's going to be a tough start for Peters however. Tech is the hottest team in the league right now, and its defense is playing outstanding.
The Orediggers, who reached the NAIA poll this week at No. 25, had seven takeaways against MSU-Northern and are leading the country in turnover margin.