By Bill Foley
These are not Kyle Samson’s father’s Northern Lights.
But it also appears they are not the same Lights that have been pushovers since Mark Samson resigned as head coach before the 2014 season.
As Montana Tech heads to Northern for a game it just has to win, the Orediggers know they will be facing a Northern team that has been competitive, albeit a winless in four games this season.
Kickoff for the Frontier Conference football game is 1 p.m. on Northern’s brand-new Tilleman Field. (Radio: KBOW, 550 AM, 101.5 FM, kbow550.net or on the KBOW app.)
“They’re a good team,” said Tech’s Kyle Samson, who served as offensive coordinator after his Hall of Fame career at Northern. “They had Rocky Mountain right on the ropes at the end of the game last week.”
Northern enters the contest trying to snap a 17-game losing streak that dates back to a 20-14 win at Arizona Christian on Aug. 31, 2019.
The Lights, who are 7-66 since Mark Samson resigned before the start of the 2014 season, have lost 45 straight Frontier Conference games since they beat Carroll College 28-14 Sept. 17, 2016 in Havre.
The Orediggers have an eight-game winning streak over the Lights, and none of those games have been close. Tech’s average victory over that stretch is 56.9-11.9, outscoring the Lights 455-95 in those games.
Northern, though, has shown signs of life this season, and in particular in the last two games. The Lights played with Montana Western before falling 42-28 in Dillon. Last week, Rocky Mountain College scored with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in a 31-28 win in Havre.
“They’re a solid football team,” Kyle Samson said. “They’ve got some talent.”
Kaymen Cureton, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound redshirt junior from Long Beach, California, leads a Northern offense that has been run heavy — largely to the amount of quarterback scrambles. He ran for 59 yards and a touchdown last week.
Izayah Boss, a 5-9, 190-pound sophomore, ran for 158 yards and a TD last week. Dylan Vongphachanh added 67 yards and two scores.
“They’re very athletic,” Samson said. “Their wide receivers and their secondary have some good speed. They’re coached well.
“The quarterback is a very good athlete. Both their running backs are quick guys who can make plays. They’ve got some speed at some receiver and size.”
Defensively, the name you need to know is Mike Van Diest. Yes, that Mike Van Diest. The man who led Carroll College to six national titles is now in charge of the defense in Havre.
Van Diest has a very good record beating Montana Tech and shutting down Oredigger defenses. Actually, he as an incredible record against every Frontier Conference team.
The personnel might have changed, but the scheme is very much the same.
“Obviously, coach Van Diest does a great job with their defense,” said Samson, who knows what is like to face Van Diest as a player and as a coach.
Montana Tech is in must-win mode as it hits the road for the third time this season. Tech is 1-3 after last week’s 45-21 home loss to Western.
“Obviously it was not our best effort last weekend,” Samson said. “There were still a lot of good things when we looked at it on tape. We missed a lot of opportunities. We made some mistakes that hurt us, and we didn’t capitalize on some opportunities.”
Playing without injured receiver Trevor Hoffman, Butte High graduate Kiley Caprara had a monster game in the losing effort. The junior reached career highs with 12 receptions for 188 yards.
He came within two receptions of matching the school record of 14, set by Chris Kelly in 2017.
The Orediggers are not sure if they will have Hoffman back. Kyle Torgerson, who caught at touchdown from Jet Campbell last week, leads the team with three receiving touchdowns.
Even though the Orediggers had to largely abandon the running game because of the large deficit, Blake Counts ran for 70 yards and two touchdowns behind an offensive line led by Jack Hiller, Trey Copeland, Carson Shuman, Hunter Spartz and Max Anderson.
Defensively, the Orediggers have been playing without multiple injured starters, and it likely will be again on Saturday.
Sophomore linebacker Blake Allred and freshman linebacker Cole Wyant led the Oredigger defense with nine total tackles apiece last week. Sophomore defensive back Brandon Morley and freshman Keyshawn James-Newby followed with eight.
Junior DB Teddy Croft, junior defensive end Logan Kolodejchuk and freshman DB Angel Sanchez III each had seven tackles.
James-Newby registered a sack, and Kolodechuk joined junior linebacker Brendan Kinnee with a forced fumble.
Freshman Kade Wilcox picked off a pass. He also joined junior Naoki Harmer and sophomore Jordan Washington with two pass breakups.
Samson said he expects his team to rebound from last week’s loss.
“We’ll bounce back,” the Tech coach said. “Our kids have been good in practice this week. Sometimes in life (stuff) doesn’t go your way, and you’ve got to fight back. That’s what we’ll do. We’ll get ourselves back on track.”
The Orediggers will be playing on Tilleman Field, which is named after former Montana Grizzly and NFL player Mike Tilleman, for the first time. Tilleman is credited with helping bring back the Lights football program two decades ago.
Samson will be coaching against his college team for the first time, too. This summer, Samson and his brother Marc were inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
“It will be fun. It will be the first time ever stepping on the new field,” Samson said. “One of my dad’s great friends was Mike Tilleman. It is named after him, and that’s a cool deal. His family has always been really good to my family.”
The Orediggers are back at home next week to take on the College of Idaho. After a week off, Tech travels to Southern Oregon on Oct. 23.