Frontier Conference Notebook: Carroll/EOU game looms large
Montana State University-Northern's Stephen Silva (right) runs to daylight during a Frontier Conference football game last month in Havre. Silva is third in rushing in the Frontier Conference heading into Saturday's Military Appreciation Day game against Montana Tech at Blue Pony Stadium.
One of those games involved the Montana State University-Northern Lights. Northern beat Tech under the lights last month in Butte, and while the two teams will play a rematch under the sunshine Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium, there is a rare Frontier Conference night game on the horizon for the Lights.
Though it's not a done deal yet, the Havre Blue Ponies will likely be hosting a Class A quarterfinal playoff game on Nov. 5, which means the Northern/Rocky Mountain College game scheduled for that day would have to be moved. The Lights have already announced that should the game have to be moved, it will be moved to 7 p.m. Nov. 4 at Blue Pony Stadium. If the Lights and Bears play at night, it will mark the second time that has happened, as Northern beat Rocky seven years ago on a Friday night in Havre.
MSU-N's last night game at home came at the end of the 2008 season when the Lights thumped Montana Tech at Blue Pony Stadium the night before an HHS playoff game.
- Coming out of the bye week, it looked as though a lot of things were going to play out as it pertained to the Frontier Conference championship. But last week saw nothing more than Carroll and Eastern Oregon gain a cushion on the rest of the league. Carroll trounced RMC at home, EOU squeaked by Tech in LaGrande, Ore., and Northern was upset in the final seconds at UM-Western. Those three outcomes gave Carroll and EOU a two-game lead in the Frontier heading into this weekend's huge showdown in Oregon.
Carroll lost to EOU at home last month, as the Mounties snapped the Saints' 42-game conference winning streak. It also set up Saturday's rematch, which for all intensive purposes could be for the league crown. Both Carroll and EOU sit at 5-1 in conference play, while Northern and Rocky are two games back at 3-3. And while a win by either the Saints or Mounties on Saturday won't mathematically clinch anything, it will certainly mean the winner has the leg up on the league title heading into the final three games of the season.
Back in September, it looked as though EOU's stunning win in Helena would give the Mounties a real shot at the outright league title with Carroll still having to travel to EOU. But now that the game is here, things are not so certain. The Mounties have lost two of their last three, and in their last four games, they've beaten Western and Tech, the two teams at the bottom of the league by an average margin of just eight points. EOU's offense has also slowed down as of late, including managing just 22 points at home against Tech last weekend.
Carroll has also never lost at Community Stadium, and the Saints appear to be hitting stride at the right time. They've won five straight games since their 41-33 loss to EOU in Helena, and they are sixth in the NAIA in rushing on offense, as well as 10th in the nation in scoring defense, yielding just 14 points per game. So while an early-season win over the Saints is inspiring, it appears that Carroll, even though on the road, has the upper hand against the Mounties now.
- Northern and Rocky's losses last weekend on the road were tough pills to swallow for both teams, and they came in two different ways.
The Lights had beaten Western in three straight, with the last two wins decided in the final minutes of the game. Saturday, Western finally turned the tables as the Bulldogs went on a :51 second march with the game tied at 27-27, and kicked a game-winning field goal to upend the Lights and give head coach Ryan Nourse his second win of his young career. The last-second kick earned Western's Yim Sribenjakul NAIA Special Team's Player of the Week honors, and it also capped off an amazing run of games between Northern and Western. The two teams went to overtime once in 2009 and again last year, while this year, the Lights won by a touchdown in Havre, then lost by three points in Dillon.
Rocky on the other hand, didn't appear ready to live up to the preseason adulation it garnered as the Bears were completely shut down in Helena last Saturday. The Bears scored one touchdown and once again were swept by the Saints. Many people picked Rocky to upend Carroll at least once this season due to several close calls in recent years. But last Saturday at Nelson Stadium was more business as usual in the one-sided Carroll/Rocky rivalry.
- Last Saturday was a good day for running backs in the Frontier.
Northern junior Stephen Silva rushed for 189 yards and also scored a two-point conversion in the Lights' loss at Western. In that game, sophomore T.J. Leep and senior Charlie Dotson also combined to rush for 79 yards. Carroll junior Chance Demarias rolled up another 190-yard performance in the win over the Bears and continued to lead the Frontier and the nation in rushing, and EOU's Kevin Sampson went over 100 yards for the sixth time this season in the Mounties' win over Tech.
Demarias, Sampson and Silva are all averaging over 100 yards per game, while Montana Tech freshman Pat Hansen as piling up 98 yards per outing in what has become a very good year for running backs in the Frontier.
- Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Blue Pony Stadium. The Lights will take on Montana Tech at 1 p.m. Northern last played at home on Sept. 17 against Eastern Oregon. The Lights have three of their final four games at home.