During the Montana Western football team’s six-game winning streak that dates back to last season, head coach B.J. Robertson has had an ace up his sleeve.
Before each one of those wins, the coach has called upon Bulldog greats of the past for a motivational speech for his team either on game day or the night before a game.
It started with last Oct. 18 when former Bulldog Steve Vezina gave an impassioned speech before the bulldogs hosted Eastern Oregon. The Bulldogs won 34-28, the talks continued with Rob Hankins, Trent Gibson and Jory Thompson as the Bulldogs closed out the 2014 season with four straight victories.
This season, Mike Taylor gave a talk before the Bulldogs opened the season with a win at Rocky Mountain College. Jess Alberi spoke before last week’s thrilling home win against the College of Idaho.
“You know how coaches are,” Robertson said of why he continued the talks into this season. “Half of it is tradition and the other half is paranoia.”
This week as the No. 19 Bulldogs travel to Havre to take on MSU-Northern at 1 p.m. Saturday, the motivational duty will fall on the lap of Bulldog great Chuck Lucero.
On paper the game looks like a mismatch since the 0-3 Lights are coming off blowout losses to Montana Tech and Rocky Mountain College.
Still, Robertson said Lucero will have his work cut out for him because the Western coach saw a lot more than the final scores when preparing for the game at Blue Pony Stadium.
“They are playing hard and getting after it,” Robertson said of the Lights.
First order of business is stopping powerful running back Jake McKinley.
Despite playing for a team that was outscored 104-14 the past two Saturday, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Great Falls Russell product has racked up 350 yards rushing through the first three games. He is averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
“McKinley is one of the best players we’ll see,” Robertson said. “He’s not just one the best running back, he’s one of the best players in the Frontier Conference. He’s a tough son of a gun.”
Junior receiver Jake Messerly missed the Montana Tech game two weeks ago. He was back for the Lights last week at Rocky.
“He’s an explosive kid who can make you pay in a hurry,” Robertson said. “He returned a kick for a touchdown against us last year.”
Robertson is also very concerned about the defensive line. He said the Lights made Rocky’s quarterbacks pay for the passes they got off last week.
“That’s a concern for us when we have to young quarterbacks,” Robertson said.
True freshman J.D. Ferris is the reigning Frontier Conference Offensive Player of the Week after the former Dillon Beaver hit Matt Lickfold for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds left to beat the College of Idaho 24-20.
Fellow true freshman Bradley Smith is also taking half of the first-team practice reps as the team prepares for both quarterbacks to play.
“We want these guys to know, ‘Hey, I’ve got back up. I don’t have to do this by myself,’” Robertson said.
Ferris ran for 163 yards and passed for 144 in last week’s win. Robertson said the quarterback’s demeanor was also key in the win.
“His overall composure is something that really stands out,” the coach said. “He gets his teammates to play hard to help him out.”
Lickfold caught five passes, while Sam Rutherford added 97 yards on the ground in the win. George Sherwood also hauled in a 43-yard pass.
On the other side of the ball, senior linebacker A.J. Wilson was named Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Week for the second straight Monday.
He forced a turnover and intercepted a pass, giving him three picks in two games.
“He certainly puts himself in the right place at the right time,” Robertson said, adding that fellow senior linebacker Dakota Wainwright put a lick on the quarterback to aid the interception.
Redno Ward had a pair of sacks in the win.
The Bulldogs left for Havre on Friday, and undoubtedly they didn’t leave before Robertson gave them a reminder about how quickly fortunes can change in the Frontier Conference.
Two years ago, during Robertson’s first season, the Bulldogs were riding high at 3-0 after wins over Southern Oregon, Dickinson State and Montana Tech.
The Lights went to Dillon for a 33-21 win that turned the season around, and Western lost its next four games.
So the Bulldogs will be very wary of the 0-3 Lights.
“Coach (Bob) Beers used to tell us ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you play on Saturday,’” Robertson said.
When the Bulldogs arrive in Havre, they will likely hear similar lessons from Lucero.