Surging Dawgs look to end 17-game Carroll streak

Since Montana Western has not beaten Carroll College in football since 2004, the Bulldogs have redoubled their effort for Saturday’s homecoming game at Vigilante Field.

Kickoff for the game, which will include Montana Western Hall of Fame inductions at halftime, is at 2 p.m.

The No. 16 Bulldogs have won seven straight games dating back to last year when former Bulldog Steve Vezina addressed the team before beating Eastern Oregon at home on Oct. 18 last season.

Being a typical superstitious coach, Bulldog head coach B.J. Robertson has had a Bulldog legend talk to his team before every game.

This week, Robertson will have Jason DesJarlais, a 2015 Hall of Fame inductee, address the team. Also, as fate would have, the Bulldogs got some unexpected lessons Thursday from Iraq war veteran Robert Bedeluk.

Bedeluk hung around practice Thursday and talked to the team. Bedeluk was a very welcome addition for Robertson because you can never have too much help when the Saints come to town.

Since the Bulldogs won 26-17 at Nelson Stadium in 2004, Carroll has won 17 straight games against Montana Western.

This time around, however, Montana Western is the first-place team, sitting alone atop the Frontier Conference standings at 3-0. No. 6 Carroll is tied with Montana Tech and Southern Oregon at 2-1.

This time around, the Bulldogs appear to match up pretty well against the Saints.

“We’ve got to go out and take care of the ball,” Robertson said. “We feel like we’re more evenly match than we have been in the past. Games like that usually come down to turnovers and field position.”

The Bulldogs went to MSU-Northern last week and beat the struggling Lights 44-2. In that win, Robertson said his team left some plays on the field. That is something the Bulldogs can’t do this Saturday.

“We talk to our players about it all the time,” Robertson said. “The difference between a good player and a great player is consistency. Great players do it all the time.”

Carroll, which has six national titles since 2002, has been the model of consistency under head coach Mike Van Diest.

The Saints, the coaches’ pick to win the conference, have shown some signs of vulnerability this season.

Carroll fell 19-10 to weeks ago at Montana Tech. The Saints needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Rocky Mountain College 42-36 last week in Helena.

Robertson said that was a much-improved Rocky team from the unit that fell 49-6 at home to Western on Sept. 5.

Carroll’s senior quarterback, Mac Roche, has lost his top four targets from a year ago. Well, five if you count handing off to 1,700-yard running back Dustin Rinker, who was lost to graduation.

Receivers Anthony Clarke and Jared Mayernik were also lost to graduation, and the Saints lost receivers Kyle Griffith and Dylan Simac to injuries.

That would probably account for Roche’s completion percentage falling from 67 percent a year ago to 56 percent this season.

“Maybe it isn’t as bad because they have got depth, but they have been hit by the injury bug,” Robertson said.

Roche has passed for 756 yards and seven touchdowns in three games this season. He also has been picked off five times.

Robertson laughed at any talk that Roche is having a down season.

“When you’ve got a senior quarterback like that, like they say in boxing, you’ve still got a puncher’s chance,” Robertson said.

Now, running back Ryan Walsh is the top target for Walsh. He has 14 catches for 146 yards. Eric Dawson has 13 catches for 182 yards, while Connor Fohn has 12 grabs for 232 yards. Fohn caught the game-winning 55-yard TD last week against Rocky.

Walsh and Dylan Green lead a Western rushing attack that isn’t close to putting up the numbers it did last year.

The Western defense leads the Frontier Conference, giving up just 8.7 points per game. That ranks the Bulldogs at No. 2 in the NAIA.

A nasty linebacking corps led by A.J. Wilson, Joe Coker, Dakota Wainwright and T.J. Benson leads the Bulldog defense into action. Reno Ward, Andrew Gilpin and Tyrell Penner lead up front, while the secondary of Mitch Pelroy, Ben Sulser, Jay Owens and Dakota Pineda has been solid.

Western is plus seven in the give-away, take-away ratio.

On offense, Western will again be led by a pair of true freshmen at quarterback. J.D. Ferris will get the start, and Bradley Smith will likely see time.

The growing pains that come with young QBs aren’t a concern for Robertson because he knows he has a solid running game and a veteran offensive line on his side.

Sam Rutherford scored three touchdowns rushing last week. He also caught on score.

Hunter Thomsen ran for 98 yards last week. The Bulldogs also have running threats in Dylan Kramer and T.J. Leap, and the quarterbacks can run.

Caleb DeGroot, Will Thacker, Shayden Flint, Donovan Hucke and Kylan Putman are the starters on the offensive line. (Western two deep)

Matthew Fuhrman, Tyler Murray and Matt Lickfold lead the Bulldogs, who are still without injured Beau Brekke, in receiving.

The Bulldogs, like the rest of the Frontier Conference, will be off next week. Western’s next game is an Oct. 10 home game against defending national champion Southern Oregon.