DILLON — A gust of wind and one link on the chain stood in the way of Montana Western ending a 17-game losing streak to Carroll College Saturday in front of a standing-room crowd at Vigilante Field.
Oh, and a stingy red zone Saints defense had a say, too, as Carroll came out on top of a 10-9 defensive struggle of a Frontier Conference football game. Stats
“They tightened it up in the red zone and made some key plays when they had to,” Western coach B.J. Armstrong said following the loss, which put a damper on the Bulldogs’ homecoming and Hall of Fame celebration.
While the Bulldogs outgained the Saints 390-230, the Saints kept Western out of the end zone, forcing four field goal attempts.
Seth Mason connected on field goals of 44, 19 and 30 yards. With the Saints leading by one late in the third quarter, Mason’s missed a 37-yard field goal that was attempted into a stiff breeze.
“We buckle down,” Carroll coach Mike Van Diest said. “I just wish I could make some better calls so we wouldn’t have to do it down there. I wish we’d force more punts than field goals.”
Robertson praised the play of Carroll’s defense, which stepped up when it mattered.
“That’s when it counts,” Robertson said of the red zone stops. “We were moving the ball pretty good and, compliments to them, they held us out of the end zone. The made us kick field goals.”
The Bulldogs picked up most of their yardage on the ground.
Junior Sam Rutherford racked up 185 yards on 29 carriers. Dylan Kramer added 69 yards on 12 carries.
“I was proud of him,” Robertson said of Rutherford, whom the coach pointed out has been working hard to learn first-year offensive coordinator Terry Thomas’ system. “He’s been working for this, and it seems like he gets stronger as he goes.
“Today he made some great jump cuts,” Robertson said. “He’s been settling into a new offense, and today was the first day that I saw him really look comfortable. That’s a good sign for the future.”
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Rutherford’s big day didn’t end in the end zone.
His best chance came after Colter Hamel tied the game at 3 with a 21-yard field goal 4 minutes, 21 second before halftime.
That game-tying kick was set up by a trick play. Backup Carroll quarterback J.T. Liner, who directed the Dillon Beavers to a State title on the same field four years earlier, lined up at receiver. Senior quarterback Mac Roche handed off to Dylan Green, who pitched the ball to Linder.
Linder’s throw was a bit under thrown, but Connor Fohn hauled it in for a 32-yard gain to the Western 5.
Freshman quarterback J.D. Ferris directed the Bulldogs on a drive from their own 39, giving Western first and goal at the 3-yard line.
The Saints stacked the line, though, and three Rutherford carries came up short. So, the Bulldogs were forced to settle for a 19-yard field goal and a 6-3 lead 15 seconds before halftime.
A 42-yard Rutherford run to start the second half lead to Mason’s third field goal, a 30-yard boot to extend Western’s lead to 9-3 with 12:29 left.
That lead didn’t last long. The Saints struck back in just four plays.
Four straight Roche completions — three to Connor Fohn — marched the Saints 72 yards for the game-winnings score.
Roche, who completed just 15 of 29 passes for 176 yards and one interception, hit capped the drive with a 35-yard touchdown strike to Fohn down the left sideline.
Hamel’s extra point put the Saints up one with 10:44 left in the third quarter.
“He pulls things out,” Van Diest said of his quarterback. “He makes some smart players. He put the ball on the money a couple of times. He just missed a couple of them.”
Western’s last best chance to regain the lead came when Ferris led a Western drive from the Bulldogs’ 17 to the Carroll 45 yard line.
On fourth and 2, Ferris kept the ball on a sneak up the middle. The Western crowd and sideline celebrated a first down.
The officials, though, called timeout for measurement. The ball was about an inch short of the first down, giving the ball to the Saints at their own 44 with 2:41 left in the game.
“I thought we had it,” Robertson said. “I didn’t think it was close.”
The Bulldog defense gave the offense one final chance by forcing a three and out coupled with a pair of Western timeouts.
Robertson said the Bulldog defense has been what it has done through the first four games of the season. Playing great.
Reno Ward and Joe Coker paced the men in black with six tackles apiece. A.J. Wilson, who picked off a pass again, joined by Taft Benson and Tim Mundanhiol with four
“The defense again continues to do a great job of flying around, being physical and being fast,” Robertson said.
Western got the ball at its own 29 yard line with 2:10 left.
Ferris hit Matt Lickfold for a 14-yard gain to the 43 on second down.
A 1-yard run by Ferris, though, was followed by three incompletions, and the Bulldogs handed the ball back to the Saints, who went into victory formation.
“We did what we had to do today,” Van Diest said. “The secondary, I thought they played extremely well today.”
The Carroll win means the Saints are tied with the Bulldogs, Montana Tech and Southern Oregon atop the Frontier Conference at 3-1.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Van Diest said. “Tech outplayed us two weeks ago, and we didn’t deserve to win that game. We played hard, and we snuck one out last week (against Rocky Mountain College) and we snuck one out today. So, the cardiac Carroll kids are doing it.”
Robertson cautioned his Bulldogs that there is a lot of season left to play.
“If we would have won this it was one of 10,” the coach said. “Unfortunately it came out on the wrong side, and it’s one of 10.”
The Bulldogs, like the rest of the Frontier, will be off next week. They are back in action Oct. 10 at home against defending NAIA national champion Southern Oregon.
“We’ve got some time to kind of clean things up and hopefully put a little veteran on the quarterbacks,” Robertson said. “We’ll let it hurt for the next 24 hours, then we’re back to work.”