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Saints hold down Lights on homecoming

 

September 14, 2018

Colin Thompson

Jett Robertson runs with the ball during Saturday's game against Carroll at Blue Pony Stadium.

The Montana State University-Northern Lights were a wounded football team coming into their homecoming game against a surging Carroll College squad. And yet, the Lights showed the type of resolve and toughness that new head coach Andrew Rolin is instilling in his young Northern squad.

In their homecoming game, the Lights didn't come away with the a win, falling to the Fighting Saints 32-14 Saturday at sunny Blue Pony Stadium. But, Rolin saw plenty of positives in the defeat.

"I think the whole stadium saw it, this team is a group of fighters," Rolin said. "You saw it on that last drive. This team never quit fighting, never quit battling. They competed for every single second of this game. That doesn't show up on the scoreboard, and don't get me wrong, we're not satisfied with today. Our goal is to win football games. But we took a step forward today. We showed how the culture here is changing."

Indeed. Northern did fight, but, in the end, it wasn't quite enough.

Carroll scored on the opening drive of the game, as Major Ali plunged into the endzone from two yards away. The Fighting Saints added an Eric Dawson score with 2:48 left in the first quarter, while two Northern drives stalled inside the Carroll 30-yard-line, as the Saints led 14-0.

However, the Lights didn't let the game get away from them. Northern got three straight stops in the second quarter, and then, the Lights finally finished a drive against the tough, Carroll defense.

In just over two minutes of game time, the Lights marched 71 yards on 11 plays, with key catches by Bryce Bumgardner helping Northern move down the field. Eventually, the Lights would get it inside the five, and Tommy Wilson finished things off with the first of two rushing touchdowns by the senior quarterback.

Carroll would add a Josh Kraft field goal just before half, but, Rolin felt extremely good about where his young squad, coming off back-to-back 50-point losses, was at halftime.

"I saw a lot of positives out of our defense, they made some stops and gave our offense chances in the second quarter," Rolin said. "I thought we did a great job of rallying as a team, and you know, even into the fourth quarter, I thought we still had a shot. We had chances, and that speaks to how hard our kids played today, and how hard they competed."

Northern did compete, but, eventually, Carroll's huge offensive line, and the combo of star Major Ali and backup running back Ryan Arnston, the Saints started wear the Lights down.

After forcing an early three-and-out to start the second half, the Saints got back on the board when Kolby Killoy hit Shane Sipes for a 25-yard TD, and Arntson added a rushing TD just minutes later, giving Carroll a 29-7 lead after three quarters.

"I think a couple of keys were us not being able to convert on that first drive of the second half," Rolin said. "I wanted to be aggressive, and we're going to continue to be aggressive. But we didn't get that play, and that set them up with pretty good field position right there. And, they (Saints) have a strong offensive line, and Major Ali is a very good running back, and in the second half, they were able to control the clock and run the football effectively, and that was a big difference. I thought Carroll did a great job of really possessing the ball in the second half."

Carroll (2-1, 3-1) did cxontrol the game on the ground. The Saints rushed for 287 yards, with Ali racking up 133 yards on 23 carries. But, the Lights never gave in.

And in the fourth quarter, Northern again went on a great drive, this one, totaling 11 plays and 68 yards, with Wilson sneaking it on from one yard out to make the score 29-14 with 14:18 left in the game.

"Tommy is a tough, tough kid, and he showed everybody that today," Rolin said. "And he's a darn good football player. He showed exactly why he is the leader he is. He never stops competing."

No question, Wilson fought all the way to the end, taking hits and throwing passes, as he tried to drive the Lights down for one last score. He completed several long passes on a drive which followed a Kraft 26-yard field goal, but, as time expired, Willson and Marvin Williams just missed on what would have been one more touchdown for the Lights.

"That last drive right there, and the stop before where we held them to a field goal attempt, that shows how much our guys are competing," Rolin said. "It shows the change in culture that's going on here right now. I'm really encouraged by what I saw today. Again, I'm not satisfied. We have a lot of work to do, and a lot to clean up. We've got to get better in all areas. But I'm proud of the way our guys competed today, and especially against a really strong Carroll team. That team (Saints), is very good, and I think you're going to see them get better and better as the season goes on."

The Lights did compete. Offensively, Northern was clean again, with no turnovers. And against a very stingy Carroll defense, the Lights had 269 yards of offense, with Wilson throwing for 198 yards and rushing for two scores. Jett Robertson was held to 42 yards on 14 carries, while Bumgardner had a career-high 110 receiving yards on eight catches.

Carroll's offense, meanwhile, did a have a breakout performance, as the Saints came in averaging just 16 points and less than 400 yards off offense per game. But, against a Northern defense starting six freshman, the Saints rolled up 453 yards, with Arntson adding 91 on 15 carries. Troy Arntson caught five balls for 65 yards and Sipes caught four for 64, as Killoy threw for 166 yards on the day.

Caymus Thomas led the Northern defense with 15 tackles and a tackle for loss, while Chase Gilbert and Jaren Maki each had 11 stops, and Jake Norby and Joe Fehr had sacks.

"Our defense played hard," Rolin said. "But, at the same time, we know we have to get better, we have to get off the field in key situations. We just have to execute better. Same offensively, we just have to execute at a higher level. That's the bottom line. And we'll do that. We got better today, and we're going to keep getting better."

And the Lights, who fell to 0-3 in the Frontier, and 1-3 overall, still have plenty of time to do that. They travel to Montana Tech next Saturday, before getting to their bye week Sept. 29. And while the road isn't going to be easy, with how tough the Frontier is again this season, Rolin certainly is encouraged, especially with how hard his team played on homecoming.

"I'm by no means satisfied, I'm not happy with all of how we played today," Rolin said. "But it felt different today. I just had a different feeling and I think our guys showed that. They really fought and competed the whole way through, and that's what we need to do every single game. I saw a lot of positives today. The pieces are there. We just need to keep getting better, and I beleive we'll do that."

 

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