An old rivalry has new life this week
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After three weeks, the Frontier Conference standings are starting to look a little old school. And this Saturday in Helena, the new biggest kids on the block are going to fight.
The hottest team in the Frontier, Montana Tech, is off to a 3-0 start in league play heading into its showdown with No. 3 Carroll College Saturday in Helena.
The Orediggers are up to No. 21 in the most recent NAIA Poll, and they deserve the accolades. After a bitter home loss to South Dakota Mines to open the season, Tech has been dominant, and a big reason why is senior quarterback Matt Komac.
Komac leads the Frontier in passing and pass efficiency. The latter is a category Komac struggled with as a freshman and sophomore, but this season he's making the right decisions, and Tech's offense is more balanced than ever. The Orediggers aren't just a run-heavy team any longer, and with Komac averaging over 225 yards passing per game, Tech, with its solid offensive line and stable of running backs, has become harder to defend than in recent years.
The game between Carroll and Tech will mark the first time in three years the two arch rivals have met while both nationally ranked. But it used to be a twice-per-year occurrence. And with how things have been shaking out in the first half of the season, Saturday's game at Nelson Stadium will have a lasting impact on not just the Frontier title, but the NAIA playoffs as well.
Carroll went with junior quarterback Dane Broadhead last Saturday in its 28-2 win over UM-Western. Broadhead started for the second straight week for former Havre Blue Pony great Gary Wagner, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered during Carroll's first game of the season.
It hasn't been announced wether Wagner will play against Tech on Saturday, but Carroll has stayed mainly on the ground in his absence. The Saints are leading the Frontier and are fifth in the NAIA in rushing offense with senior John Camino and sophomore Chance Demarias getting the bulk of the carries.
Carroll takes a 36-game Frontier Conference winning streak into Saturday's huge matchup with the Orediggers, and if they escape unscathed, they'll come to Havre on Oct. 1 with MSU-Northern still having been the last Frontier team to beat the Saints.
The Lights are a week away from hosting Carroll, but they have a huge game on Saturday at home. Northern is just eight points away from being 3-0 this season, but instead have lost their last two games by that combined margin.
Perhaps that's a sign of a young team, as the Lights start just one senior on offense and three on defense. And that could be why MSU-N has looked different in all three of its games. Northern's first two weeks, it gave up just 13 points per outing, but last week surrendered 50 in a loss at Eastern Oregon. Conversely the MSU-N offense exploded at EOU with Derek Lear throwing for three touchdowns, Matt Stuart getting 99 yards receiving and Stephen Silva going over 90 yards rushing for the first time in his career.
"When we can put four quarters together on both sides of the ball, we're going to be a pretty darn good football team," MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said.
And the Lights are good despite the 1-2 start, but that's also what makes Saturday's game with RMC so critical. Not only do the Lights want to get back in the win column, but they are tied with Rocky and EOU at 1-2 in the league standings and a home win would go a long way towards staying in the Frontier race.
MSU-N is also at home for its next three games. The Lights host Rocky, then Carroll, then have a bye before hosting UM-Western on Oct. 16.
The Bears will be looking to get back on track offensively in Havre. RMC led the nation in passing the last two years, but they are just fifth in the Frontier right now. In its first three games, Rocky barely eclipsed 200 yards per game passing, but with senior quarterback Kasey Peters back, the Bears will likely begin to open up the playbook now.
Rocky has a stable of outstanding wide receivers, but one more might be in the mix Saturday in Havre. With Peters back at the controls, senior Mark Desin is likely to be used in many different ways, including at receiver and kick returner. In his three full seasons at Montana State, Desin started for the Bobcats at defensive back, receiver, quarterback and punt returner.
If UM-Western is going to get off its current four-game losing skid, Saturday could be the day. The Bulldogs are the last winless team in the Frontier, but they host a vulnerable EOU team in Dillon.
The Mounties got their offense going against Northern last Saturday but still had to score twice in the fourth quarter to overtake the Lights, and they still had three turnovers and a punt blocked.
Meanwhile, Western's defense has played well at times, especially linebacker Trent Mallory, who leads the Frontier in sacks. However, the Bulldog offense, a once powerful attack, needs to get on track. In three of its four games, Western has not went over three points. Northern took care of Western 20-3, Idaho State beat the Dawgs 32-3 and Carroll held them to a safety last Saturday.