HELENA – Carroll College hadn’t scored on its opening possession all season. That changed Saturday at Nelson Stadium.
Major Ali punched in a one-yard touchdown in the first six minutes and the Fighting Saints never looked back in a 49-14 rout over MSU-Northern.
“If we get things going early it sparks our defense and I think that’s one thing we did today, we scored on our first drive and I believe that’s the first time we have all year,” said receiver Troy Arntson, who caught two touchdown passes. “I think that’s a really big thing we did today and it sparked us early. We knew coming out that we had to take the lead early and I think we did a great job of that.”
Arntson hauled in a Tanner Gustavsen-thrown 23-yard touchdown pass two possessions later as the Saints put up 35 points in the first half.
“Troy is super-athletic and he’s wiggly, that’s what we like to say,” said Gustavsen. “He gets open. Also we connected with Sam Stratton today at tight end, he’s a great target, a big target whose fast with big hands. I’m just excited to distribute the ballot everyone pretty much.”
Gustavsen put together his best game as a starter, completing 17 of 22 passes for 243 yards and four touchdowns. The Saints outgained the Lights 427-266 in total yards and limited star running back Zach McKinley to 119 yards while keeping him out of the end zone. McKinley scored three touchdowns in the Lights’ prior win over the Saints.
“A guy like that, a running back like McKinley is a great running back,” said Carroll defensive lineman Alec Basterrechea. “The guy does not stop his feet when he’s moving. We knew that was our assignment, bringing him to the ground and wrapping him up. The first game we had the same intention to do that but we didn’t put ourselves in great situations. Bringing him to the ground was one of the big things because if that guy slips off with his jump cuts and all his different moves he’s going to get up-field and score a touchdown.
“I think our linebackers made plays off the defensive line plays and that’s been phenomenal all season. Also our safeties, Tucker Johnson and McBride Galt fly down and made some big hits on McKinley. He played a great game though still.”
Carroll scored the first six touchdowns of the game and kept the Lights scoreless until the final eight minutes. The Saints opened the second quarter with Gustavsen hitting Connor Fohn on a 28-yard touchdown strike. The two hooked up again 10 minutes later as Carroll took a 28-0 lead.
Gustavsen led another scoring drive and found Arntson for his second touchdown of the half with under two minutes to play. MSU-Northern drove downfield and into field goal position, but the Saints blocked the try to hold a 35-0 lead at the half.
“We definitely have the athletes to make plays and it was just trying to get out there early and make the big ones,” said Fohn.
After a scoreless third quarter, Carroll again found paydirt when Conner Poulson took a snap in the wildcat formation for a two-yard touchdown and 42-0 advantage.
Lights’ quarterback Caleb McLaren found Ethan Snow for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter but the damage was far too significant. Carroll third-string running back Henry Hill capped the Saints’ scoring with a three-yard touchdown late in the game.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Gustavsen has provided a much-needed spark to the Carroll offense, leading 10 touchdown drives in the last two weeks.
“The one thing Tanner did today is, once he gets out of the pocket anything can happen,” Arntson said. “That’s what’s very fun about being a receiver is when you have a quarterback that can do that. I think that sparked us a little bit because even if we’re covered on a play there’s a hope there that we can get open and he will find us downfield. I think that’s a great advantage for us receivers and it’s very hard on defensive backs, our scout team tells us that all the time. If the quarterback is scrambling, it’s very hard to cover for four or five or six seconds and I think that’s one thing that Tanner brings to the table which is awesome.”
Gustavsen, who has replaced the injured JT Linder under center, credits his offensive line with the Saints’ offensive success.
“Our offensive line did such a great job,” he said. “It makes my job so much easier when I can sit in the pocket for four or five seconds and find an open receiver or I can hand it off and we can pick up six yards per run. They just did a great job, came together as a unit and I’m really proud of them.”
Carroll (4-4) earned its first two-game win streak of the season. The Lights travel to Dillon to face Montana Western in a 6 p.m. kickoff next Saturday.
The Lights fall to 1-7 and are at Southern Oregon.