Lights face long road trip, potent Raiders

 

November 2, 2018

Colin Thompson

Keagan Stroop and the Montana State University-Northern Lights play their final road game of the season Saturday when they travel to Ashland, Oregon, to take on Southern Oregon.

For the second straight Saturday, the Montana State University-Northern Lights have a tough road trip to make. And for the second straight Saturday, the Lights are facing a team suffering a four-game losing streak.

Last Saturday, the Lights’ attempt to hand Carroll College a fifth straight loss didn’t go so well, as the Fighting Saints blitzed Northern 56-7 behind a record-setting rushing performance from Ryan Arntson.

Now, Northern will turn its focus to trying to hand Southern Oregon a fifth straight loss, when MSU-N visits Raider Stadium Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. M.D.T. in Ashland, Oregon.

“What has happened to Southern the last few games isn’t a factor,” Northern head coach Andrew Rolin said. “They’re a really good football team. They’re extremely talented, and they’re still the team that was ranked number two in the country at one point.”

Yes, SOU was ranked No. 2 in the NAIA less than a month ago. And the Raiders had gotten their season off to a 4-0 start. Then, inexplicably, the wheels fell off the bus. SOU has lost four straight Frontier Conference games, including getting blasted by the College of Idaho last Saturday. Now, the Raiders are out of the hunt for the Frontier championship and the NAIA playoffs.


Still, with star running back Rey Vega as the catalyst, the SOU offense, which has sputtered in recent weeks, is still potent and can’t be taken lightly, especially by a Northern defense which is allowing nearly 45 points and 250 yards rushing per game.

“They like to run the football,” Rolin said of the Raiders. “They have good running backs, a solid offensive line, and their quarterback can take off and hurt you with his legs. So we have to continue to improve on defense. We have to be better against the run. That’s the bottom line.”

Northern’s defense has been under fire all season, especially with how much youth the Lights start. Still, linebackers Jaren Maki and Chase Gilbert have been impressive, as has defensive tackle Justin Pfeifer and defensive end Joe Fehr. On the back end, corners/safeties Caymus Thomas and Devariej Criss have been consistent, and they would normally be up against it when playing SOU, but the Raiders just haven’t been the same kind of passing team this season that they have been in the past. First-year starter Wyatt Hutchinson averages under 200 yards passing per game, and has thrown just six touchdowns on the season. That has hampered the ability of the Raiders to get the ball into the hands of All-American WR Bronsen Ader.


And while the SOU offense has been struggling most of the season so, too, has the Raider defense, and that’s even more surprising given the star power the Raiders returned. Tyson Cooper, Devon Gage, A.J. Cooper and Sean Rogers were all All-Conference a season ago, and Rogers was an All-American. But the Raiders come into Saturday’s game ranked just sixth in the Frontier in both total defense and rushing defense.

So the Lights, who rank last in the league in scoring but have moved the ball well all season, especially behind quarterback Tommy Wilson and running back Jett Robertson, will hope to exploit what has been a struggling Southern Oregon squad, a squad that now has little to play for the rest of the season.

The Lights, meanwhile, will also be motivated by the fact that they want to put a positive stamp on a season that has seen them lose nine straight games after opening with the win over Mayville State.

“They (Raiders) won’t look at us any differently,” Rolin said. “They’re going to come prepared to play and try to beat us the same way they do every week in this conference. We know they’re a very good football team.

“But this is about us and what we do,” he continued. “I’ve said that all season long, and it continues to be about us. This is about us going through the process, about us growing up and getting better every week. If we’re going to have success, it’s going to come down to us, as players and coaches, doing our jobs, and doing it consistently well for four quarters. We haven’t done that yet. We haven’t put it all together for four quarters, and I’m hoping this is the week we finally do. I really wanna see us do that.”


Saturday’s game between the Lights and Raiders kicks off at 1 p.m. in Ashland, Oregon. The Lights return home to finish the 2018 season with a game against College of Idaho Nov. 10 at Blue Pony Stadium.

Last Road Game

MSU-Northern Lights (0-8, 1-8) at Southern Oregon Raiders (4-4, 4-4)

Saturday, 1 p.m.

in Ashland, Ore.

Streaming: http://www.golightsgo.com

Radio: 92.5 KPQX FM

Twitter: Twitter/Havredaily

 

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