By Bill Foley
For Bennett Gibson, good things really are coming to someone who waited.
For so long, the fifth-year Montana Western quarterback could not crack the starting lineup for the Bulldogs. Today, he is the reigning NAIA Offensive Player of the Week.
That honor came after Gibson put up one of the all-time great games by a Bulldog quarterback in one of the program’s biggest victories.
Gibson passed for 365 yards and had a hand in five touchdowns — three passing and two rushing — to lead the Bulldogs to a 42-35 win over then-No. 5 Montana Tech at windy Vigilante Field.
The Mount Vernon, Washington, native took over the Western offense after J.D. Ferris suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the first quarter of Western’s first game.
While the Bulldogs have had a couple of hiccups early, dropping two conference games, Western has been rolling lately. The Bulldogs scored a total 103 points over their last two wins, and Gibson has a hand in 16 touchdowns over the last four games.
Montana Western head coach Ryan Nourse, who doubles as the team’s offensive coordinator, said the offense is really starting to click.
“This is Bennett and I’s sixth game with me calling plays and him as the quarterback,” Nourse said after the win. “I’m starting to figure out the things he can do. We’ve got some wide outs like Melvin Walser who are starting to step up. Nate Simkins and Walker McKitrick just come to work every day.”
The quarterback, though, is the key.
“Bennett’s got great savvy,” Nourse said. “He’s paid his dues, and now he’s performing. He loves the Bulldogs, and he’s performing at a high level.”
Gibson was more mobile than the Orediggers figured. He made several big throws outside the pocket. Perhaps his most impressive one came as Gibson put the Bulldogs up 28-21 in the third quarter.
The quarterback rolled right, then faked like he was going to run. That drew a defender off running back Hunter Thomsen. Bennett then delivered to ball to Thomsen, who bounced off another defender and dove past the pylon for an 11-yard score.
As a backup for so long, Bennett said he just prepared for the time when he would be called upon. That times is now.
“I just made sure I was ready,” Bennett said. “I got my shot, and here it is.”
Back in action
Saturday’s game in Dillon marked the return of Montana Tech junior linebacker Nic Amestoy.
The Helena native got the start after being suspended the first four weeks of the season for violating a team rule.
He has a new number (34), but his play looked the same as in 2016 when he was one of the top defensive players for the Orediggers — and in the Frontier Conference.
Amestoy registered 69 tackles, including 13 for a loss last season. On Saturday, Amestoy led the Orediggers with 10 tackles. He also sacked Gibson to kill a drive just before halftime.
The Big Mo
Saturday’s battle in Dillon clearly was a battle of momentum. The Orediggers jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and that turned quickly into a 21-14 deficit.
The first momentum shift came with Deer Lodge native Tristan Clark picked off a tipped Quinn McQueary pass. His return set up Western’s first touchdown, and that snowballed into three.
The Orediggers killed the momentum by marching 75 yards on 21 plays for the game-tying score with 1 minute, 26 seconds left before halftime.
Jed Fike capped the scoring with a 1-yard run.
That was one of two long Oredigger drives into the win. In the fourth quarter, Tech took 7 minutes off the clock while Marching 95 yards for a 35-28 lead. Fike took the ball in the final 12 yards, and McQueary hit Chris Kelly for the two-point conversion.
Gibson and the quick-strike Bulldogs, though, took the momentum back and kept it until the clock ran out.
Saturday’s game in Dillon was played in front of a packed house and a big-time environment.
The Orediggers and Bulldogs should expect the same this week as they both hit the road. Western plays at the College of Idaho, while the Orediggers travel to Helena to take on Carroll College at Nelson Stadium.
The College of Idaho leads the NAIA in attendance, averaging 3,862 fans per game. Montana Tech is averaging 3,503, while Southern Oregon averages 3,411 and Carroll is averaging 2,875.
Of course, Tech’s numbers would likely top the nation of all the fans watching from the tailgate area or peeking through the fence for the season-opening win over the Saints.
Paid attendance that night was 4,709, but closer to 7,000 people watched the Orediggers win.
Still, with four Frontier Conference teams ranked near the top of the NAIA in attendance, it just goes to show you that fans have noticed the great play of the Frontier Conference.
Before he passed away in January, Southern Oregon coach Craig Howard called the Frontier the “SEC of the NAIA.”
At 1-4, Carroll College hasn’t started the season like they — or anybody else — expected. The Saints, though, will have history on their side Saturday.
Montana Tech has won just two games at Nelson Stadium since it opened in 2001. Tech won their first trip to Nelson in 2001 and again in 2015.
Carroll beat Tech 27-24 in the season opener last season in Helena.
While Tech has found recent success against the Saints, the Orediggers have just six wins over the Saints in the past 16 seasons.
For the first time since Sept. 23, all eight Frontier Conference teams will be in action Saturday.
Southern Oregon and Rocky Mountain College had last week off. Tech, Western, Carroll, Eastern Oregon and the College of Idaho were idle the week before.
Southern enters the second half of the season in first place at 5-0. Tech is one game back, while Western and Rocky sit at 3-2. Eastern Oregon and the College of Idaho are next at 2-3, followed by 1-4 Carroll and 0-5 MSU-Northern.
Saturday’s loss was clearly a huge blow to the Orediggers, who entered the season with national championship aspirations.
In reality, the Orediggers have been here before. Tech suffered losses in the first half of the season the last two seasons, only to win the conference title with a 9-1 record.
This year, though, the Orediggers have less time to climb back up in the standings after falling six spots to No. 11.
In 2015, Tech fell at Eastern Oregon in the third game of the season. Last year, Tech dropped the opener before running the table.
This year, Tech has five games to climb the rankings.
The good news for the Orediggers is after Saturday, they will play three of their final four games at home, where Tech has a 14-game winning streak. The even better news is Tech still controls its own destiny.
If the Orediggers win out, that would give them the Frontier Conference title for the third straight year. The season could come down to the Nov. 11 battle with Southern Oregon on the Bob Green Field.
A national title run is certainly still possible for the Orediggers. A home game beyond the first round of the playoffs, however, is almost certainly out of the question.