- Your Town
Dawn of the Dawgs
Western starts new era with 38-34 win over nemesis Southern Oregon
By M.P. Regan
B.J. Robertson didn’t waste any time notching his first signature win as a college head coach.
In Montana Western’s season opener and his debut game as the Bulldogs head coach, Robertson guided Western to a dramatic 38-34 triumph over the #14 Southern Oregon University Raiders in front of an overjoyed, overflow home crowd at Vigilante Stadium in Dillon on Saturday.
“I wish I could say I had something to do with it,” said Robertson after the game. “But it was the players and our assistant coaches who did the job.
“All the kids played hard and contributed, and our coordinators, Sean McKinney and Rob Goode, came up with awesome game plans.”
The Dawgs won with a fourth quarter fight back as thrilling as it was unlikely, coming from 10 points down to retake the lead on a pair of touchdowns—the second a 25-yard pass from Tyler Hulse, a converted wide receiver making his first regular-season start at quarterback, to diving freshman wide receiver Collin Sale with 1:23 left in the game.
Sale’s diving catch came a few minutes after a TD run by freshman Western RB Sam Rutherford, who earned Frontier Conference Offensive Player of the Week (see sidebar) with a breakout performance that featured 185 yards on just 11 carries and runs of 45, 32 and 5 yards that all started between the tackles and ended in the SOU end zone.
“Sam’s a great kid, a tough kid. He runs the ball downhill,” said Robertson, who also saw Western’s leading rusher from last season, Dylan Kramer, pick up 86 yards on 22 carries to help Western pile up 293 yards on the ground.
“We’ve been real excited about our two-headed monster with Sam and Dylan. And Michael Lake is no slouch either.”
But all the yards gained and points scored on the ground by Western would have been moot if not for the Bulldog defenses’ quartet of vigorous stands deep in their territory.
“Our guys on defense were relentless,” said Robertson, who watched his D shut down four SOU intrusions deep into Bulldog turf with a goal-line stand that forced the Raiders to turn the ball over on downs at the Bulldog 1, a blocked field goal by DT Phil Selin, and interceptions by safety Jesse McCloud and defensive back Scott Mundaniohl.
Senior linebacker Kasey Griffith led the Bulldog defense with 8 solo tackles and 9 assists, while senior defensive lineman Francisco Romero rented a time share in the Raiders backfield, where he recovered Selin’s blocked kick and recorded 3.5 tackles for loss as part of his 6 solo tackles and 5 assists.
After stuffing an SOU running back in his own backfield, Romero kneeled over the downed opponent and shared a few thoughts with him.
“I just reminded him that they were playing on our home turf,” said Romero after the game.
The Dawgs late comeback came after all the excitement they’d generated during a solid first half faded during another nightmare third quarter against SOU, who outscored the Bulldogs by 56-14 during the third quarters in their two games last season.
Before their two scoring drives and defensive stops, the Dawgs’ five second-half possessions led to an interception and four punts as SOU grounded their air attack, stacked the box and ground down the Western defense with two long drives for touchdowns to cap a 22-0 run.
“In that third quarter, about anything we could do wrong, we did,” commented Robertson, who lost his three top wideouts—Rashad Peniston (leg cramps), Josh Lords (ribcage injury) and Beau Brekke (hamstring problem) for most of the second half, after losing dual threat WR/QB Matt Lickfold to a season-ending knee injury over the summer.
“Southern Oregon kind of forced our hand a little bit to go to our run game even more,” said Robertson, a running back and special teams ace during his playing days at Montana Western.
“Compliments to our offensive line, which didn’t give up a sack and led the way for our almost 300 yards rushing. It was a great day for them.”
“And compliments to all our players for sticking with it and turning the page in the fourth. Our guys were hot and tired and down a couple scores. They had to be tough mentally and physically, and they were. They played their tails off right to the end.”
Southern Oregon opened the scoring when Western afforded them a free play in the first quarter by jumping offside, giving license to SOU quarterback and 2012 Frontier Conference Offensive Player of the Year Austin Dodge to gamble with a long pass down the sideline that moved SOU to the Bulldog 4, where the Raiders punched it in from two plays later with a TD run by Matt Retzlaff.
Western dominated most of the rest of the opening half, taking and then padding the lead on a 5-yard TD run by Hulse, a pair of long TD runs by Rutherford and a short field goal by Connor Greth.
SOU scored two TDs of its own in the second quarter—one on a 56-yard bomb from Dodge to Dylan Young—to make it 24-19 at the half.
“We talked all week about how SOU has a big-play offense,” said Robertson of the Raiders, who put 130 points on the board against Western in a home-and-away last season.
“We told our guys that they had to make them earn it and not give them big plays. SOU got more than we would have liked them to, but our guys did a great job making them earn it and denying them in the end.”
This weekend, Montana Western takes a long road trip to North Dakota to take on Dickinson State on Saturday in another Frontier Conference game.
“Now, we’re off next to Dickinson State, a completely different kind of animal,” said Robertson, who spent six years as an assistant coach at another Frontier Conference football program, Rocky Mountain College, before taking over as head coach at Montana Western this spring.
“Southern Oregon likes to spread it out and move quickly and get the ball into space, whereas Dickinson State uses more of a pro style, ground-and-pound approach, setting up their passing through their running game.
“They are kind of like their head coach, Hank Biesiot. He’s one of the winningest and longest-serving coaches in the country, and his team is like him: old school.
“They are fundamentally sound and tough as nails.”
- Montana Western earned 0 yards on 0 attempts on kickoff returns, with Southern Oregon kicker Aldrick Rosas booting all seven of his team’s kickoffs either out of the end zone or too deep into it for Bulldog returners to hazard a return. Still, Western fared better on kickoffs than did SOU, which managed just 27 yards on their 4 kickoff returns.
- The Bulldogs 293 rushing yards in the game equaled almost twice as many as they accumulated on the ground in their two games against SOU last season.
- Western’s punting unit suffered through some shaky moments, but steadied and saw Seth Mason boom three punts (one that rolled out of bounds inside the Raiders 10) for an average of 42 yards per punt.
- SOU attempted fades into the corner of the Bulldog end zone while deep in Western territory on four plays during the first half; all four efforts failed.
- Western continued their excellent defense of PAT and two-point conversions from last season (when they foiled a dozen attempts by opponents to tack on points after touchdowns) by denying the Raiders pair of two-point conversion attempts in the first half.
- Western’s leading pass catcher from last season, wide receiver Rashad Peniston, was limited to 2 catches for 9 yards by leg cramps.
- Robertson reported no long-term injuries from the game.