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George Ferguson Column: An epic tale of two different halves

 

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It's almost like the Montana State University-Northern Lights and Eastern Oregon Mountaineers played two different football games over the course of 60 minutes Saturday afternoon at Blue Pony Stadium.

That's just how different each half of play really was in EOU's 39-36 win in Havre.

In the first 30 minutes, the Lights looked like one of the best teams in the Frontier Conference as they staked themselves to a seemingly insurmountable 34-7 lead.

Northern's redshirt freshman quarterback Derek Lear looked like a savvy veteran, throwing passes all over the lot, and his receivers, like Matt Stuart and Brandon O'Brien, were making big plays as a result. Together, they caught four of Lear's five first-half touchdowns.

And perhaps the play that epitomized just how good the Lights were on offense in the first half was Lear's TD pass to Stephen Silva in the second quarter. Silva had broke wide open out of the backfield on a wheel route, and Lear, with one of the league's best defenders, EOU's Seath Kimball chasing him, threw a perfect ball under duress to the wide open Silva for another score just before Lear got planted into the ground.

That's just how good Lear and the Lights were in the first half.

To make matters worse for the Mounties, the Lights' were lights-out on defense in the first half as well.

MSU-N forced the Mounties into six first-half turnovers, and got heavy pressure on all-american quarterback Chris Ware. The Lights were hitting Ware hard, making him make uncharacteristic mistakes, and all of that added up to a dominating first half.

"I've never seen a game like that in my years here," Northern head coach Mark Samson said. "I've never seen us play so well for a half and then play so poorly for another half in the same game. It really was that big of a difference."

And while Samson admits his team did not in any way follow up what was an incredible first-half performance on Saturday, the Mountaineers didn't give up either.

After all, they are the team that already put together a miraculous comeback against the Lights just last month in LaGrande, Ore.

And with faith in themselves and a lot of skill, they did it again on Saturday.

Like Northern, Ware and the Mounties looked like a completely different team in the second half of Saturday's comeback.

On defense, the Mounties hunkered down, limited the Lights to just four first downs, forced MSU-N into three costly turnovers and sacked Lear four times, all in the final 30 minutes.

On offense, Ware returned to his all-american self, throwing three touchdown passes over the top of a stellar Northern defense, helping lead his team to yet another wild comeback.

"We talked at halftime about how we have to keep fighting," Ware, a junior two-time all Frontier QB said. "We have a lot of faith in each other, we have a belief that we're going to find ways to pull games out no matter how bad things get. That's what was said at halftime, and we were able to come out and make it happen in the second half."

And make it happen the Mounties did, again.

For the second time in one season, EOU left the Lights in heartache after a seemingly impossible comeback.

And once more, the Mounties left a very good team searching for answers, because there is no question, for a good portion of Saturday's tilt, the Lights looked and played like the better football team. They looked like a team which has come light years from a bitter losing streak last season, and the way they played for a half on Saturday, they served notice that they are going to be a good team for years to come.

But unfortunately for the Lights, or fortunately for the Mounties, Saturday's game was more like a two-for-one special, a true tale of two different halves or a pair of games inside one crazy and wild shoot out.

And in the end, for yet another season, EOU was the team left standing at the end.

 
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