HELENA — The Carroll College football team won a close battle last week at home against Linfield in a marquee nonconference clash to build confidence among the players.
Now the Saints must maintain momentum.
They return to Frontier Conference play against a dangerous opponent when they travel to Havre for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday against Montana State-Northern.
The Lights (1-2, 0-2) were picked to finish last in the Frontier Conference in the preseason poll, and they’ve lived down to that billing in blowout losses to Rocky Mountain College and Montana Western.
While the matchup on paper looks good for the Saints (2-1, 1-1), coach Mike Van Diest will remind his players of a few things this week.
The first is to not take the opponent for granted.
“We tell guys not to be scoreboard watching or compare scores,” Van Diest said. “That’s the worst thing you can do as an athlete or coach.”
The other is a history lesson from the last time they were in this situation. It was 2016 with the first game of the season again Northern.
Carroll, ranked No. 21 at the time, was supposed to win with ease, but ended up losing 28-14. And it was Northern’s only Frontier Conference win of the season.
The Saints fumbled twice, threw an interception, had a field goal blocked and the quarterback was sacked twice.
“Our guys have a long memory,” Van Diest said “They remember two years ago when we went to Havre. We didn’t get beat, we got physically dominated by that team up there. They took it to us. It wasn’t close at any time. There are a lot of players on this team who were there in 2016."
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While the Lights have not shown well in conference games, they can move the football. Quarterback Tommy Wilson returns from last season, there are four returners on the offensive line and an addition at center in Darius Alexander-Jones, a transfer from Minot State.
Tailback Jett Robertson not only runs the ball well, but can makes catches out of the backfield too.
“We’ve struggled with that, and they have a wide open offense,” Van Diest said. “They put up a lot of points against Mayville State. They just got down against Western and abandoned their game plan.”
The Saints will counter with a defense coming off a standout performance a week ago. They intercepted three passes and held strong in the red zone in crucial situations.
Carroll’s veteran secondary has been keeping the defense in games while the defensive line and linebackers mesh together.
“We got a pretty old group,” senior safety Drew Melton said. “Most of us have been around here for a while and know the system. We have fun out there and play well together. With a veteran group, we want their best, to keep bringing it. The receivers are going to catch a few passes, but we won’t break. We thrive under those situations.”
Carroll’s offense started to come around last week, so quarterback Kolby Killoy earned the next start, Van Diest said.
He started the season as the backup to Reese Hiibel, but Hiibel missed the past two games due to injury.
During Hiibel's recovery period, Killoy settled into the offense. Throwing the game-winning 65-yard touchdown help, too.
“I think he has (earned the next start), until we see different,” Van Diest said. “He has the confidence of the coaching staff and the confidence of his teammates. He made some mistakes Saturday, but he got us out of some jams. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s a hockey player, he’s a tough kid. His teammates love him. And that’s big plus. It goes with it. His leadership will develop. He’s the guy behind center.”