The Montana State University-Northern Lights and the Dickinson State Blue Hawks aren’t playing for much more than pride when they hit the Blue Pony Stadium turf on Saturday afternoon it.
But there’s also something else that’s secretly at stake when the Lights and Blue Hawks meet for the first time in Havre since the 2006 season.
Northern, as with much of the rest of the East Division of the Frontier Conference and DSU recruit a lot of the same areas, and now that the Blue Hawks are an official member of the Frontier Conference, that recruiting battle will be heating up even more.
Right now, DSU has 30 Montana-born players on its roster, with a healthy dose of them coming from the Billings-to-Miles City region. But veteran DSU head coach Hank Biesiot, who is in his 37th season and is one of the all-time winningest coaches in NAIA history, has been successful recruiting the entire state of Montana. DSU currently has prep standouts from as far west as Whitefish, as well as from Great Falls. And the Blue Hawks have always done well on the Hi-Line. In the past DSU has had standout players from Malta and Plentywood, while there are two Glasgow Scotties on the 2012 DSU team.
MSU-N and Dickinson are also renewing an old rivalry which is sure to heat up as the years go on. As long as the Frontier continues with two divisions, the Lights and Blue Hawks will meet twice a year, and the rivalry got started this season with some fireworks. The Blue Hawks stormed back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Lights in the final seconds, 21-20 in Dickinson back on Sept. 15 in Dickinson, N.D. So with it being Senior Day at Blue Pony Stadium, and the Lights wanting to finish the season with some much-needed momentum, Saturday’s game is sure to be a heated one.
Last Saturday’s Southern Oregon/Carroll game was one for the ages, as the Red Raiders held on to beat a charging Saints’ squad in the waning seconds, 52-49 in Ashland, Ore. SOU head coach Craig Howard and many of the players called it the program’s biggest win ever.
But when the dust settled on the game, the Frontier Conference might have been changed forever. SOU’s win gives Montana Tech a chance to win its first outright league championship in at least 12 years, as Carroll has won or shared the league title for the last 12. Tech has to win out, which will be easier said than done, because the Orediggers too have to travel to Ashland next week. It also gives a SOU a shot at a share of the league title by winning its last two games, and it a possible NAIA playoff berth.
Once more, consider the fact that the Red Raiders, who average 54 points per game, are a young team. Austin Dodge, who might as well already be named NAIA Player of the Year, is just a sophomore, while his offensive line only starts one senior. All three of Dodge’s all-world receivers are seniors, but the Raiders will return their entire defense, which should be much-improved next season.
And with SOU appearing to be for real to stay, Saturday’s game leaves the Saints in a precarious position. It would take two losses by Tech in order for Carroll to grab a share of the Frontier title with SOU, and they would need SOU to lose to Eastern Oregon this week, and Tech to lose twice to claim the Frontier’s automatic bid. So those are all long shots.
But if the Saints win out, which is likely considering they close with Rocky Mountain College and DSU, don’t expect to see Carroll missing from the playoff party. It’s true, a Frontier team has never received an at-large bid with three losses, but Carroll only dropped to No. 16 in the most recent NAIA Coaches Poll, and with two more wins, the Saints will certainly move up a couple of spots by the last poll. At No. 12 or No. 13, Carroll should be well within the line to make the playoffs, and while the Saints haven’t had three losses in one season in a long, long time, there’s no evidence to support they’re not still one of the 16 best teams in the country.
If you’ve never heard the name Heyward Dennison, you might want to get ready to hear about him. Dennison is a red-shirt running back at Southern Oregon and could be the Red Raiders’ next feature back. That’s not really newsworthy, but what is amazing is Dennison’s story.
The SOU freshman from Portland, Ore., was featured on the Oct. 23 edition of ESPN’s E:60. While a junior in high school, Dennison collapsed after scoring a touchdown and was pronounced dead on the sidelines. He was revived and found out he had a serious heart condition, one in which he underwent a dangerous open-heart surgery to correct, and one that allowed him to continue his football dream. Dennison made it back for his senior season, and eventually earned a full scholarship to SOU.
It’s an incredible story, and one which may get even more exposure once Dennison begins his actual playing career at SOU next fall.
MSU-Northern has five players in the Frontier’s Top 15 in total tackles.
Senior defensive tackle Mike Carbone isn’t one of them. But Carbone has been quietly having an outstanding season for the Lights. Heading into his last home game, the 6-2, 265-pound senior from California has a solid 43 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a team-high five sacks. Carbone has three of those five sacks in his last two games and he’s moved up to fourth in the Frontier in sacks this season.
Carbone will be playing his final game of a short, but outstanding MSU-N career Saturday, and together with defensive end Ryan Craig, the duo has totaled 9.5 sacks on the season and both should be hungry for more against Dickinson State.