Frontier Notebook: It's been quite the ride in the Frontier
The regular season is over. It went by so quickly, it's really hard to believe that only two Frontier Conference football teams are left standing.
But what a historic season it was in the new-look Frontier.
The league crowned co-champions this season, and for the first time since 1999, neither is named Carroll College. Last Saturday, in Ashland, Ore., the Southern Oregon Red Raiders demolished Montana Tech 46-28 to grab a share of the Frontier title. Both teams finished 8-2, while Tech earned the league's automatic bid through point differential.
And a couple of interesting facts about the Orediggers and Red Raiders sharing the conference title are, they both played in the West Division of the newly expanded Frontier, and they both beat Carroll, with no chance for the Saints to get even.
The new schedule has divisional teams playing each other twice per season, while each team then plays four cross-division games. And that seemed to really hurt the Saints (7-4) this season as they lost games on the road to both Tech and SOU.
Winning streaks also played a big part in the success of the Red Raiders and Orediggers this year. After losing to Eastern Oregon to start the season, Tech ripped off eight straight wins before last Saturday's loss at SOU. Conversely, SOU finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak after a less-than-stellar 2-2 start, which included a double-overtime loss to Tech.
Looking back on the Lights
If not four Carroll shockingly losing four times this season, many would say the Montana State University-Northern Lights were the biggest surprise in 2012. The Lights returned key starters on offense and defense this season, but wound up going just 3-7 after being picked to finish second back in August.
Several things haunted the Lights throughout the season, but turnovers were the biggest factor. The Lights turned the ball over 24 times this season, one more than both Eastern Oregon and Rocky Mountain College. But, Northern finished dead last in the league in turnover margin, as the Lights were -9 on the season. The Lights also finished second in the Frontier in penalty yards per game, averaging 77 yards per.
Finishing was also an issue for Northern in 2012. The Lights held the lead at halftime or longer in five of the seven games they lost this season. Of their seven losses, Northern trailed only Carroll and SOU at the break. The road was also unkind to MSU-N, as the Lights went 0-5 away from Blue Pony Stadium, while going 3-2 at home.
On the upside, many Lights had a big year and should be rewarded for it.
As a team, the Lights were second in the conference in total offense, averaging 448 yards per game. MSU-N was also second in passing, and the Lights finished in the top half of the league in most defensive categories.
Individually, Derek Lear finished with single season records for passing yards (2,798) and touchdowns (26), while finishing second in the NAIA in total offense. Junior receiver Brandon O'Brien had a breakout campaign, totaling 806 yards on 46 catches while scoring 11 touchdowns. O'Brien led the Frontier with a 17.8 yards-per-catch average and wound up averaging 88 yards receiving per game. On the ground, Stephen Silva ran for 816 yards and averaged 88 yards per game, wrapping up a historic four-year career for the Lights.
On the defensive side of the ball, James Chandless had a monster season at linebacker. Chandless totaled 100 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks, and he basically did it in nine games, because he wasn't playing linebacker full time during MSU-N's season opener against Carroll. Senior Mike Carbone also came up huge for Northern. Carbone finished third in the Frontier in sacks with seven, while totaling 57 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. Junior linebacker Jordan Van Voast had another efficient season, finishing seventh in the conference with 83 stops, while sophomore Josh Baum was ninth with 76 tackles.
Speaking of big numbers, no one in the NAIA put up the numbers SOU sophomore quarterback Austin Dodge did. Dodge led the nation in passing, throwing for 4,325 yards and 36 TD's, as well as total offense. He averaged a total of 441.9 yards per game this season.
Despite being nagged by injuries and playing in just eight full games, Carroll's Chance Demarais once again led the league in rushing. Demarais tallied 1,151 yards, averaging 115 yards per outing. The former Malta star also went over 4,000 yards for his career at Carroll. Tech's Pat Hansen (1,085) and SOU's Manny Barragan (1,046) were the Frontier's other two 1,000-yard rushers.
SOU receivers Patrick Donahue and Cole MacKenzie led the way through the air. Donahue led the league averaging eight catches per game, while MacKenzie edged him out in receiving yards per game. MacKenzie averaged 135 yards per game, while Donahue averaged 130. The dynamic senior due were the only two receivers in the Frontier to go over 1,000 yards for the season.
On defense, EOU's Howard McDonald led the league and the nation with a Frontier-record 162 tackles. Tech's Jacob Workman led the conference with 9.5 sacks, while Western's Jesse McCloud led the league with seven interceptions.
The Frontier will have two teams in the NAIA playoffs for the first time in several years. SOU, ranked No. 10 in the NAIA, will head to Saint Ambrose (Iowa) this Saturday for the Red Raiders' first playoff game as a member of the league. Tech is also in Iowa, playing at third-ranked Morningside (10-0).
Now that the regular season is over, it's interesting to see where everyone was picked to finish in the Frontier's Preseason Coaches Poll, and where they ended up.
Tech went 8-2 and grabbed a share of the league title after being picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll. SOU was picked to finish fifth but wound up tied for first.
Carroll was picked to win the conference championship, but wound up third after going 7-3 in league play. Northern was picked second but finished seventh. Rocky was one of only two spot-on picks. The Battlin' Bears were touted fourth back in August and finished there with a 5-5 record. Dickinson State was the other, being picked to finish last, and doing so with a 1-9 record. EOU was picked third but tied Western for fifth at 4-6. The Bulldogs were picked to finish seventh.
Montana State University-Northern quarterback Derek Lear, right, throws a pass during a Frontier Conference football game against Dickinson State Nov. 3 in Havre. Lear finished second in the Frontier in passing, passing touchdowns and total offense. He was also second in the NAIA in total offense for the second straight season.