Dawgs eye consistency in home opener

Montana Western has been on runs before.

A lack of consistency, though, brought down the Bulldog football team’s hopes of making a push for the playoffs.

Coming off last week’s 49-6 win at Rocky Mountain College, enthusiasm is running high in Bulldog Nation as the Bulldogs welcome the College of Idaho to Vigilante Field for their home opener Saturday. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

“The big factor is can we be consistent?” Western head coach B.J. Robertson said. “Hopefully we can learn from our history.”

That history doesn’t go back too far. The Bulldogs get an all-to-familiar lesson when they watch the game film from last year’s 31-28 loss at the College of Idaho. The Bulldogs turned the ball over six times in that loss, which was on Sept. 13, 2014.

If the Bulldogs would have won that game, they would have been in the playoff race. The Bulldogs, who lost the week before at home against Rocky, only lost to eventual conference champion Carroll College and eventual national champion Southern Oregon as Western finished 6-4 in conference play.

“If we beat the College of Idaho, we’re at 7-3 and in the playoff picture,” Robertson said.

So, the Bulldogs will enter Saturday’s contest with that in mind. They can’t afford any breakdowns if they expect to win in the Frontier Conference.

The Coyotes come to town with a 1-1 record. A week after beating Eastern Oregon 40-28 at home, COI gave up 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and fell 32-31 at home to Pacific University.

Senior quarterback Teejay Gordon, a true double threat, passed for 342 yards and three touchdowns last week. Robertson said he is also expecting redshirt freshman quarterback J.J. Hyde to take some snaps for the Coyotes.

Robertson called the COI quarterback situation a “double-headed monster.”

“They’re both athletic guys who probably look to run more than they throw it,” Robertson said. “But they can throw it.”

Seven Coyotes caught passes last week, and three hauled in TDs.

Western’s defense comes in riding a high after the Rocky win.

Senior linebacker A.J. Wilson earned Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance in Billings. It could be argued that he should have won the offensive award as well.

Wilson returned two fumbles for touchdowns and brought one of his two interceptions back for a third score.

Ben Sulser, T.J. Benson and Riley Martello also picked off passes. Dakota Wainwright and Benson each registered a sack.

Robertson said the Bulldogs defense and “hidden yardage” from the Western special teams constantly put the Bulldogs young offense in good position last week.

This week, that offense will be facing COI’s high-risk, high-reward defense.

“They’re guys definitely blitz the bejesus out of you,” Robertson said.

True freshman J.D. Ferris will again get the start for the Bulldogs. The former Dillon Beavers star completed 9 of 20 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Fellow true freshman Bradley Smith also took snaps.

The coach said both quarterbacks will also play this week.

Junior receiver Beau Brekke, Western’s top speed threat on the outside, will once again sit out with an injury.

The Bulldogs still have threats in Matt Furhman, who caught three passes for 53 yards and as core last week. Matt Lickfold, Charlie Switzer and Quinn Chamberlain also caught TDs.

Junior running back Sam Rutherford ran the ball 12 times for 47 yards. In all, nine Bulldogs carried the ball.

Both games between the Bulldogs and Coyotes were settled by three points last season. Western won 30-27 Nov. 1 in Dillon. So Robertson said taking care of the ball will be paramount.

“When teams are evenly matched like this, turnovers will be key,” Robertson said. “If our defense can get some turnovers that would be huge.”

Western hasn’t played a home game since that Nov. 1 win over COI last season.

With the team riding a five-game winning streak dating back to early last October, Western fans are eager to see their Bulldogs return to their home turf.

“Folks are excited and we’re excited for our home opener as well,” Robertson said.

The Bulldogs will hit the road next week to take on MSU-Northern in Havre. The following week, on Sept. 26, Western will host Carroll College on homecoming and Hall of Fame weekend.