Dawgs bulldoze Dickinson State

So much for the probable letdown after a big season-opening victory. Or the inevitable wearying effects of a long road trip. Or the consecutive-win curse that’s haunted the University of Montana Western football program for a half dozen years.

Western put the cleats to all that and to host Dickinson State University on Saturday, when the Bulldogs sprinted out to a 34-0 lead and then coasted to a 55-21 victory to start their season 2-0 and record their first wins in back-to-back games since 2007.

“This is just such a tremendous group of guys,” said Western’s rookie head coach, B.J. Robertson, who last week guided the Bulldogs to an upset of 14th-ranked Southern Oregon in the Dawgs’ season opener in front of a packed, jubilant crowd in Dillon.

“Going on a nine-hour bus ride with them and playing like that just solidified all the good things I thought about them.”

That 500-plus-mile bus ride from Dillon to Dickinson, North Dakota, also set the precedent for Western’s players covering a lot of distance on the ground in the game, during which the Bulldogs gained 464 rushing yards, breaking—by 110 yards—a school record that had stood since 1989.

“Our offensive line continues to do a great job upfront, being physical, making holes and working as a group—and those guys can move, they’re athletic,” said Robertson, who played running back for Western in the 1990s.

Freshman running back Sam Rutherford made the most of his blockers efforts, setting a Bulldog record for most yards rushing in a single game by one player, with 245 yards and 3 TDs on 31 carries.

Western’s two-headed rushing monster exchanged one of its heads for the game, with the Bulldogs leading runner last season, Dylan Kramer, giving way after hurting his ankle early in the game to fellow sophomore RB Michael Lake, who ran for 180 yards on 20 carries, with a TD.

“That’s the mentality we have around here—if somebody gets injured, the next guy is ready to step up,” said Robertson, an assistant coach at Frontier Conference rival Rocky Mountain College for seven years before taking over this spring as Western’s head coach.

“We have to be ready with this 10-game, meat-grinder of a schedule we play in the Frontier Conference.”

That readiness proved especially beneficial to the Bulldog receiving corps, which saw two of its top pass catchers (Josh Lords and Beau Brekke) miss the game rehabbing injuries and a third (Rashad Peniston) get limited to one catch due to a first-half injury.

Despite being injured himself and wearing a cast on his arm, freshman wide receiver Connor Lamping hauled in the game’s first touchdown on a 33-yard pass from Bulldog starting QB Tyler Hulse.

“How often do you see a kid out there catching touchdowns wearing a cast on his arm? That’s a testament to Connor’s toughness and to this team’s never-give-up-attitude,” said Robertson, who also hailed the efforts of senior receiver Tyler Bergren, who had a  team-leading 4 catches for 95 yards and a 46-yard TD grab.

“Tyler is a great blocker who can also catch it and score, but who sometimes gets overlooked because he’s not as flashy as some guys. He’s provided great leadership in our receiving corps.”

Freshman tight end Jeremy Price also hauled in a TD pass, a 26-yarder in the second half from backup freshman QB Charlie Switzer.

For the Western defense, the final score defamed to deceive, as the Bulldog starters proved just as impressive as the Bulldogs’ first-string offense, pitching a shutout in the opening half while yielding just 79 total yards, before the Bulldog coaches made a wide array of defensive substitutions for the second half.

“Our defensive guys were locked in and keyed in and had a shutout for a half. They caused three turnovers and the offense took advantage,” said Robertson, who got an interception from defensive back Tim Mundaiohl and two forced fumbles by linebacker Joe Coker.

“And in the second half, we had another goal-line stand. You don’t see those very often, and now we’ve had two of them in two weeks.”

The Bulldogs will try to make it three wins in three weeks on Saturday, when they embark on their shortest road trip of the season, heading up the interstate to Butte for a 1 p.m. showdown with archrivals Montana Tech (1-1), who were co-champions of the Frontier Conference last season with Southern Oregon.

“It should be a great atmosphere up there. Western-Tech is always a fun one,” commented Robertson, who said he’s also looking forward to the game because it will include a ceremony in which Montana Tech renames its playing surface Bob Green Field, in honor of the winningest coach in Oredigger football history.

“I have looked up to and respected Bob Green a long time,” said Roberston, who first encountered Green during his schoolboy playing days in Sheridan.

“He’s done so much for football in this state. To be there on the day they are dedicating the field in his honor is pretty special for me. I think the world of him.”

<bold> Extra Points <bold>

  • Dickinson State punter Josh Borm uncorked what may well have been the finest punt in college football this week by booming a 71 yarder in the first half to the Bulldogs 1-yard line.
  • Western responded to Borm pining them near their own goal line with a 99-yard drive capped by a Sam Rutherford TD run.
  • How impressive was Western’s ground attack in gaining 464 rushing yards on Saturday? The legendary 1971 Oklahoma Sooners wishbone offense, which still holds the all-time NCAA per game average, gained 472.4 yards a game on the ground.
  • How dominant was the Western defense in the first half? Late in the second quarter, Dickinson State connected on consecutive pass completions for 35 yards and 16 yards, with those two plays accounting for two-thirds of the Blue Hawks’ offensive production in the half.
  • Western’s hard-nosed, enthusiastic play again attracted a swarm of yellow flags, as 11 penalties marched them back 91 yards; in their opener, the Bulldogs were flagged 10 times for 75.

“A lot of those penalties came from our guys playing hard and trying to make something good happen,” said Robertson, who also serves as Western’s special teams coordinator. “I can’t fault their effort. And it’s a lot easier to reign in guys than it is to get them going. I’d rather have these guys flying around trying to make plays.”

Southern Oregon, who Western upset in the Bulldogs’  season opener last week, took Big Sky Conference and NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision member Sacramento State to overtime on Saturday before losing.