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MSU-N Notebook: Home or away, Sparks always seem to fly against the Lights

MSU-Northern Game Day Notebook

 

October 16, 2017

Colin Thompson

Rocky Mountain College sophomore Sam Sparks, middle, goes by the Montana State University-Northern defense during Saturday's Frontier Conference game at Blue Pony Stadium. Sparks has been a menace to Northern and he was Saturday, too, rushing for 168 yards and three, first-half touchdowns.

Sam Sparks played high school football at one of the biggest schools in Montana - Senior High in Billings. So, until last fall, he had never stepped foot on the turf at Blue Pony Stadium, nor had he really had any reason to have anything against the Montana State University-Northern Lights.

But over the last four meetings between the Lights and Battlin' Bears, it sure seems like Sparks loves to play against the Lights.

On Saturday, Sparks, who isn't even RMC's starting running game, carried the ball just 12 times against Northern, but he scored three touchdowns and totaled a game-high 168 yards. In fact, before the Lights knew what had hit them, Sparks had rushed for over 100 yards, ripped off two massive runs and was in the endzone twice.

And that was just his first quarter.

But making big plays against the Lights is nothing new to Sparks, who is just a sophomore. Last in Havre, Sparks scored on a three-yard TD run in a Rocky 31-21 win at Blue Pony Stadium. Given how tight that game was, Sparks' first-career TD, as it turned out, was a big one.

He was far from finished against the Lights, too. In the second meeting of 2016 in Billings, with Rocky clinging to a 14-13 lead late in the fourth quarter at Herb Klindt Field, Sparks returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, lifting the Bears to a 21-13 win, and a season sweep of the Lights.

Of course, Sparks infamously picked up in 2017 right where he left off when he returned a kickoff 86 yards in what was a heartbreaking season-opening loss for the Lights back on Sept. 2 in Billings. And for good measure, Saturday's performance by Sparks, sparked Rocky to its second straight season sweep of Northern.

Not this time

Despite Sparks' heroics in Northern's season-opening loss in Billings last month, in that game, the Lights were explosive offensively. They totaled 512 yards of offense, 29 first downs and 300 yards through the air, in a game they twice led in the fourth quarter.

Saturday, however, Rocky changed the script.

Not only did the Lights manage to put just three points on the scoreboard, but they also only achieved a mere 14 first downs, rushed for a season-low 101 yards and averaged just 3.4 yards per play.

Rocky's offense had something to do with the lack of production, as the Bears racked up 29 first downs and won the time of possession battle by rushing the ball 60 times, including a clock-eating 11-play drive to start the contest.

But the Bears' defense also gnashed its teeth. Rocky had a pair of sacks, and seven defensive plays that turned into negative yardage for the Lights. Both Chase Bertelsen and Dallas Mack were terrors all day long for the Bears' defense, while three second-half interceptions thwarted any chance the Lights had at a comeback.

"The last time we played them they got after us pretty good," Petrino said. "We were on our heels all game long. What we didn't do was give up any big plays."

 

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