by: Preston Davenport
The Battlin’ Bears football team went through changes on many different levels this offseason. With a new coaching staff, a number of new players, and new facilities, the Bears are off to a fresh start. Four games in, the team seems more balanced on offense, defense, and special teams than in years past.
Aside from the 56-27 loss against non-conference and DIAA opponent Northern Colorado, the Battlin’ Bears began their season with a strong 2-0 conference start. To open the season they shook the first game jitters with a 31-21 win over MSU-Northern. Then the Bears caught a lot of attention when they pulled off an impressive 21-20 victory against conference rival Carroll College in their first home game at the newly renovated Herb Klindt Field.
The Bears’ offense struggled at times against MSU-Northern, and in the loss against Montana Tech, but overall the offense is looking more stable than the past few years. There is room for improvement in the running game with the team averaging less than 100 yards per game. With senior running back Jade Olson out for the season with an injury, the offense looks to senior Kodee Varner to carry the rock. There has been improvement in the ground game, as both the running backs and offensive line gain more experience each game.
So far the offense has been relying on their passing game. The total passing yards against Northern was double to that of the run game at 220 yards. Chase White has been having a solid second year as the bears starting quarter-back, throwing for 220 yards and 2 TD’s vs MSU Northern, an impressive 347 yards and 2 TD’s against Northern Colorado, and 232 yards and 3 TD’s against Carroll College. With standout receiver Andre McCullough graduating last year, White has been relying on all of his receivers to make plays at critical times. White’s targets include Jayc VanZee, Kalen Reed, Tyrell McGee, and Ricky Carrigan. Coach Jason Petrino has been taking steps to improve the ground game, and looks to make the offense more balanced.
The Battlin’ Bears were put to the test when they followed up the big upset win over Carroll with last year’s Frontier Conference champions Montana Tech. The Ore-diggers rolled past the Bears 48-12 in their Hall of Fame game in Butte. Tech’s defense stopped Rocky’s offense dead in their tracks, holding the Bears to 204 yards total offense with only 148 passing yards and 56 yards rushing. The Bears will look to make some adjustments to the offensive scheme going into the following game against yet another tough opponent, College of Idaho.
As always the Bears’ defense has been performing well so far this season. The defense is led by several experienced fifth year seniors on the line including Brendan Johnson, Seth Swandall, Preston Pearson, and Austin Chamberlain. Unfortunately, they did lose defensive end Chamberlain to an injury late in the game against Carroll. The defense also features a talented linebacker corps and a seasoned secondary. The defense has forced a total of 9 turnovers in their first 4 games. They shut out Northern Colorado in the third quarter of the game, and more notably shut out Carroll College in the entire second half of the game. The defense did struggle at times against the high powered offense of Montana Tech, and looks to make adjustments when the team travels to Caldwell to play College of Idaho.
Special teams has been a strong point this year, and was a key factor in the win over Carroll College when Sophomore Keenan Fagan blocked 2 punts against the Saints. The special teams has been able to make big plays against opponents and has been consistent in preventing opponents from making big plays on them.
Overall, Rocky’s football program has taken a huge step in the right direction. The new coaching staff, playbook, coaching philosophy, and facilities has provided a breath of fresh air for players and fans. The Petrino era of Rocky football is off to a good start. But it is a long and difficult road ahead, as the Frontier conference is notorious in the NAIA as a highly competitive conference. The Battlin’ Bears will travel to Caldwell, Idaho to play the College of Idaho on Saturday September 24.