DILLON — You think Aug. 23 is early for a college football game?
Well how about Aug. 23 for a playoff football game?
The Montana Western Bulldogs attacked Saturday’s season-opening game against Montana Tech as if it was just that — a playoff game — and coach B.J. Robertson’s squad responded in a big way.
Senior quarterback Tyler Hulse passed for three touchdowns and ran for another Saturday night, and Montana Western shocked Montana Tech with a 38-6 beating at Vigilante Field. Stats
The game was the only time these teams will meet in the regular season, thanks to a schedule change. The Frontier Conference rivals have met twice per year, it seems, since the dawn of time.
“We said, ‘Hey, this is a playoff game for us,'” Robertson said. “That’s how the playoffs are, it’s one and done. In the Frontier, for good or for bad, we haven’t had that in a long time. I said, ‘If you guys want to know what it’s like to play in a playoff game, here it is. Let’s attack it like that.'”
The Bulldogs scored on their first three possessions, and Western led 35-0 at halftime.
“We lost every phase of the game there in the first half,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “We started out with really poor field position, a big special teams mistake by getting a punt blocked, a turnover, a blown coverage. We did everything we could possibly do wrong right out the gate.
“The guys kept playing hard, but obviously we weren’t prepared. That’s my job.”
The snowball started on the opening kickoff. Western’s Joe Coker tackled Andre Cornell, who returned the kick from five steps into the end zone, at the Tech 7-yard line.
A ramped-up Bulldog defense forced a punt, giving Western the ball on the Tech 38 yard line. One play after the Bulldogs moved the ball forward on a personal foul on a Tech player, Sam Rutherford busted free for an 8-yard run to put the home team up for good with 10 minutes, 56 seconds on the clock.
Western forced a three and out on the next Oredigger possession. This time Deer Lodge’s Reno Ward busted through and blocked Travis Farewell’s punt, giving the Bulldogs the ball on the Tech 24-yard line.
Ward’s block set up a 26-yard strike from Hulse to Tyler Murray.
The Orediggers picked up a first down for the first time on their next possession. The team couldn’t capitalize on it, however, because a play later Coker forced a fumble by Tech quarterback Andrew Loudenback.
Philip Selin recovered at midfield. A few plays later, and Hulse rumbled into the end zone for a 15-yard run.
Western made it 28-0 with 9:12 left in the second quarter when Hulse rolled right and hit Matt Lickfold for a 58-yard touchdown.
Hulse, whose younger brother Zach plays linebacker for the Orediggers, said the Bulldogs figured they’d have chances to throw the long ball.
“The way we played against them last year, we felt they would be packing the box and giving us some openings deep,” he said. “We felt if they were going to stack the box we had a great opportunity going deep.”
On the ensuing drive, Jess McCloud picked off a Dawson Reardon pass — the first of two interceptions for McCloud — to give Western the ball at the Tech 26.
On the next play, Hulse hooked up with Beau Brekke for a touchdown, at the 8:12 mark of the second quarter.
Western extended the lead to 38-0 on a 25-yard field goal by Connor Greth with 2 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
McLeod picked off a pass and returned it 49 yards to the Tech 26 to set up that score.
The Orediggers got on the board 50 seconds into the fourth quarter. Alec Bray made a diving catch on a Loudenback pass for a 14-yard touchdown.
The Bulldogs, though, even put a damper on Tech’s lone touchdown by blocking the extra point.
“The guys kept fighting all the way until the end,” Morrell said. “That’s what I ask them to do, and it proves that they’ve got heart.”
Hulse passed for 104 yards on 13 of 28 passing. He also rushed for 63 yards. Dylan Kramer added 86 yards on the ground as the Bulldogs chalked up 230 rushing yards.
Loudenback completed 18 of 34 passes for 154 yards. He was picked off twice.
Braxon Lucero hauled in six passes for 51 yards. Zach Buenney and Bray each caught three passes.
Pat Hansen, who entered the season 775 yards shy of Don Heater’s career Oredigger rushing mark, ran for 35 yards on 18 carries.
Defensively, junior linebacker David Meis registered three tackles for a loss. The Orediggers, though, didn’t sack Hulse.
“The offensive line played great tonight,” the quarterback said. “They had great protection all night.”
Tyler Hulse pointed out that Saturday’s game was the rubber match in the Tech-Western rivalry with his brother.
“Two years ago they swept us and last year we swept them,” he said. “So the brother series was tied 2-2 going into tonight. It was our last chance.”
Robertson said Saturday’s victory was the product of a team that has been determined to put in the time since the 2013 season ended in November.
“I’ve just been so proud of how hard they worked, and I wanted to see them have success for their hard work,” he said.
The Bulldogs hit the road next week to take on NCAA Division I FCS power Eastern Washington in Cheney.
The Orediggers have to find a way to bounce back in time to take on the Northern Lights at 6 p.m. Saturday at Alumni Coliseum.
“Obviously we found out a lot about ourselves. The biggest thing we learned was we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Morrell said. “One thing I’ve learned from coaching the game of football is it’s never as bad as you think and it’s never as good as you think.”