By Ryan Divish
DICKINSON, N.D. Of all things Montana State University-Northern head football coach Walt Currie could say about Dickinson State quarterback Nick Walker's performance on Saturday, the first thing that came to his mind: "I sure am glad he's graduating."
Walker did everything but sell concessions and charge admission in leading the Blue Hawks to a 35-14 victory over the Lights. He completed 15 of 26 passes for 240 yards and four touchdowns, while leading the Blue Hawks in rushing with 71 yards most of them coming on key scrambles.
"He's a Big Sky Conference quarterback playing NAIA football," Currie said.
Of DSU's 422 yards of offense, Walker accounted for 311 himself with his only big mistake being a third quarter interception.
"Our defense for the most part played pretty darn decent," Currie said. "We just couldn't stop him. He'd either scramble for a first down or scramble and complete a pass for a first down. He's one of those good ones that you only get to coach once or twice in a career."
Indeed, the Lights' defense held the Blue Hawks' running backs to a total of 116 yards on 40 carries a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. With their running game stymied, DSU was able to hit on a pair of big plays in the second quarter to gain early momentum. Walker connected with wide receiver Adam Eckert for touchdown passes of 51 and 68 yards on back-to-back possessions.
"We knew coming into the game that we would have to hit on some big plays," said Dickinson State head coach Hank Biesiot. "We knew that we weren't going to physically dominate their defense."
While Currie said all along that Walker would be a major factor in the outcome, another determining factor that he didn't expect was turnovers specifically Lights turnovers.
Northern turned the ball over six times on four fumbles and two interceptions. It was something that plagued the Lights for the past two seasons and once again, on Saturday, they proved costly. Two turnovers directly led to DSU scores while two other turnovers ended Northern drives deep in Dickinson territory.
"That really bothers me," Currie said. "With a veteran team, you shouldn't have that many turnovers in a game."
On the opening drive of the game, the Blue Hawks' Dominic Tognarelli recovered a Richard Jarvis fumble on third down and gave Dickinson prime field position on the Lights' 38-yard line. A 22-yard run off a bootleg by Walker and an eight-yard pass to John White set up a four-yard Frank Renner touchdown plunge to give DSU a 7-0 lead.
The Blue Hawks built a 21-0 lead before the Northern offense seemed to get comfortable. Late in the second quarter, MSU-N put together a solid drive only to see it end on the DSU 36-yard line after a Bill Templer fumble. The Lights' defense held and Northern put together a six play, 59-yard scoring drive culminated by a 10-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Kerkes to Tanner Woodward with 1:24 remaining in the first half.
Northern looked to capitalize on the momentum gained from the late first-half touchdown. But a pair of crucial penalties would lead to another DSU score. After holding the Blue Hawks on their opening possession of the half, the Lights pinned themselves deep in their own territory after a clipping penalty on the ensuing punt return killed good field position. The Lights managed a first down before having to punt. On the coverage, the Lights' Brendan Dennehy made contact with Blue Hawks return man Satrone Boyd after he had called for a fair catch. The penalty gave DSU good field position on the Lights' 37-yard line. Dickinson scored five plays later when Walker connected with Eckert for the third time from 12 yards out.
The Lights wouldn't go away quietly. They put together a 12-play, 76-yard scoring drive with Templer fighting in from three yards out for the touchdown. David Knight added the extra point, cutting the DSU lead to 14, at 28-14.
The Lights' defense looked to have the Blue Hawks stopped on the ensuing possession. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave Dickinson a first down. Northern would eventually get the ball back when Brian Kott intercepted Walker on the 10-yard line but both Currie and Biesiot felt that it was an opportunity lost for Northern.
"It was a 14-point game at that and we were going to have to punt from deep in our own territory into the wind," Biesiot said. "They would have probably got good field position and their offense was starting to move the ball."
Said Currie: "We made mistakes that veteran teams shouldn't make and they hurt us."
Northern tried desperately to get something going but on their following two possessions Kerkes was intercepted by Grant Haugland and Brian Zimmerman. Zimmerman's interception would lead to Walker's fourth touchdown pass of the day when he found Brock Nelson for a 15-yard score.
Kerkes finished 29 of 55 for 250 yards in passing with Templer and Woodward leading the Lights in receiving with nine and eight catches, respectively. Defensively, Northern was led by tackles Bomont Somerfeld and Steve Spangler who combined for 14 tackles, three for losses.
Northern will open the Frontier Conference season on Saturday against Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
Dickinson St. 0 14 7 7 35
RUSHING MSUN: Ryan Utterback 6-27, Bill Templer 6-15, Brandon Kerkes 5-11, Richard Jarvis 4-10, Scott Ramsey 2-3, Chad Olsen 1-2; DSU: Nick Walker 9-71, Jace Schillinger 16-36, Mike Luther 12-34, Frank Renner 5-16, Damen Woolsey 4-12, Sam Campanella 2-8, Timothy Scheele 1-5, Adam Eckert 1-0.
PASSING MSUN: Kerkes 29-55-2250; DSU Walker 15-26-1240.
RECIEVINGMSUN: Templer 9-70, Tanner Woodward 8-64, Kris Marshall 4-53, Jarvis 2-27, Utterback 2-9, Ramsey 2-8, Clin Herrera 1-12, Nick Arnold 1-7; DSU: Eckert 5-158, Hugo Anderson 4-35, Brock Nelson 3-26, John White 1-8, Campanella 1-8, Schillinger 1-6.