No. 13 Dawgs keep focus on Lights

Montana Western fans will certainly be pulling for Montana Tech to beat Southern Oregon Saturday afternoon.

After all, an Oredigger win coupled with Western’s expected win over winless MSU-Northern would bode very well for the Bulldogs’ Frontier Conference title hopes heading into next week’s regular-season finale in Butte.

That kind of thinking, though, doesn’t concern the No. 13 Bulldogs, who take on the Lights under the lights at 6 p.m. at Vigilante Field. Western, which beat Northern 44-2 earlier this season in Havre, will honor its 17 seniors during Senior Night in a game that will follow the Dillon Beaver’s Class A playoff battle with Billings Central.

Western coach B.J. Robertson isn’t taking anything for granted because he says the Lights definitely have the pieces to put together victories in the Frontier Conference.

“It can snowball for the good or for the bad,” Robertson said of the Lights. “It’s been one of those years when things just never went right for them.”

Any team with juniors Zach McKinley, Jake Messerly and Tyler Craig has the potential to spoil any celebration.

McKinley is a 5-foot-10, 205-pound running back from Great Falls Russell. Through nine games, McKinley has racked up 919 yards and three touchdowns on 207 carries. Hat is 4.4 yards every time he touches the ball.

Messerly leads the team with 28 receptions for 368 yards. He averages 13.1 yards per catch, and has scored three touchdowns.

Bulldog fans remember Messerly for his 73-yard touchdown reception in Dillon last season.

With field conditions expected to be sloppy following the high school game, the Bulldogs are extra wary of Messerly’s big-play ability.

“The field could be pretty interesting with the Beavers and Rams playing before us,” Robertson said. “If a defender slips or something, Messerly can run by you in a hurry.”

Craig is a 6-2, 230-pound defensive lineman who has racked up seven sacks on the season.

“Their overall defensive line is physical,” Robertson said. “They’ll put pressure on you.”

Robertson is also using history as a tool to prepare his Bulldogs this week. He reminded the team of 2013 when Western started 3-0 and the Bulldogs were feeling pretty good about themselves.

The team had just spoiled Montana Tech’s unveiling of the Bob Green Field when Northern rolled into town and beat the Bulldogs 33-21. That started a five-game losing streak that spoiled the season.

McKinley ran for 98 yards and three touchdowns in that game.

“If you don’t learn from your history you’re doomed to repeat it,” Robertson said. “We have to remember who we are.”

What the Bulldogs are is 6-2 team that is riding a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s game.

“You can’t look at the big picture,” Robertson said. “You’ve got to go 1-0 each week. After we lost two games in a row, we said we need to win five straight to win the conference championship. They found a way to get the first three. These guys are focused.”

The Bulldogs, for the most part, are also a healthy bunch.

Quarterback J.D. Ferris is expected to get back in the mix after missing two weeks with an injury. Robertson said Ferris and fellow true freshman Bradley Smith should both see time in the game.

Senior tight end Matt Lickfold is back after sitting out last week’s game with an injury. The Bulldogs, though, will be without senior safety Ben Sulser, who suffered a minor injury last week.

Fellow senior Skyler Roope came in to replace Sulser, and Roope earned Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors after registering eight tackles and intercepting a pass.

The Bulldogs won 27-23 at the College of Idaho a week ago. Smith passed for a touchdown and ran for another in that win. Sam Rutherford and Hunter Thomsen also score on runs, while George Sherwood caught three passes for 123 yards. That included a 78-yard touchdown.

The game will be the final home regular season contest for seniors Sulser, Roope, Lickfold, A.J. Wilson, Joe Coker, Connor Langel, Quinn Chamberlain, Dylan Kramer, Dakota Pineda, T.J. Leep, Dakota Wainwright, Scott Mundaniohl, Tim Mundaniohl, Caleb DeGroot, Garrett Buck, Andrew Gilpin and Will Thacher.

The Bulldogs, however, are hoping it won’t be the final home game for the seniors. Ideally, they will win two more games, win the conference and host a playoff game.

If Tech beats the defending NAIA national champs earlier in the day in the battle of 7-1 teams, the Bulldogs could have a chance to win the conference when they meet the Orediggers in Butte next Saturday.

It could also happen if Southern Oregon wins but falls next week at Eastern Oregon.

First, though, Western must beat Northern. Robertson said that is the only part of the scenario the Bulldogs can focus on.

“We can’t control what happens at the Southern-Tech game,” Robertson said. “We can’t control what happens next week between Southern and Eastern. We can only control ourselves.”

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