Bulldogs bite off piece of Frontier football title and NAIA playoff spot with double overtime win

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Battle for the playoff spot

Montana Western defenders bottle up slippery Rocky Moutain College quarterback Nathan Dick, during the Bulldogs’ astounding 50-42 win in double overtime over Rocky Mountain College on Saturday at Vigilante Field in Dillon. J.P. Plutt photo


Witness a game with as many thrills, dramatic plot twists, subplot twists, intrigues, heartbreaks, heroic acts, redemptions and consequences--and you’re likely sitting in a movie theater.

And you might ask for your money back, due to so many thrills, dramatic plot twists, subplot twists, intrigues, heartbreaks, heroic acts, redemptions and consequences all piled onto one football game making it seem too implausible, even for a movie.

But it really did happen, in a true, if truly astounding contest on Saturday afternoon, out on Vigilante Field in Dillon, where the University of Montana Western football team topped Rocky Mountain College, 50-42, in a game that went beyond regulation and through two overtimes—and then stretched beyond that, with its full implications finally becoming clear with the announcement of the NAIA playoff field the following day, when the Bulldogs found out the victory gained them a spot in the postseason for the first time in almost two decades (see story on page 9).

“That was a crazy-ass game, that’s for sure,” said UMW Quarterback Jon Jund, who ran for two TDs and passed for four others in the back-and-forth contest.

“That was crazy,” agreed UMW Head Coach Ryan Nourse, whose team raced out to a 21-0 lead before Rocky mounted a furious second-half comeback, tying the score, 42-42, to force the game into a first overtime, and then another.

“It was just like our season. It was up and down, and inconsistent and mistake laden, a game against another good team,” said Nourse of a contest that seemed a compressed replay of the Bulldogs roller-coaster ride of a 2021 campaign.

“Beating a team twice in one season is the hardest thing in football,” insisted Nourse, whose Bulldogs got forced into sequel showdowns with three Frontier teams in 2021 on their winding way to an 8-3 overall record and 7-3 Frontier Conference mark that earned it the league title.

“Rocky is a good football team and they played hard,” said Nourse, who also finished the league season with a 7-3 record but lost the league title on a tiebreaker to Western, which also bettered 7-3 College of Idaho—which lost Saturday at Carroll College to forfeit its chance at an outright league title.

“But one thing we’ve always done here is keep fighting, and our guys kept fighting and we outlasted them,” added Nourse, whose season has featured numerous back-and-forth contests, the outcomes of which remained in doubt until late—even ones that seemed to get decided early, like Saturday’s game against Rocky.

“I thought we were going to blow them out, but then we let them back in the game. They’re a good team. They’ve got a lot of great players,” said Jund, whose Rocky counterpart, QB Nathan Dick, led the Battlin’ Bears fight back on his way to passing for 4 TDs in the game.

“That’s what happens when you play a team twice in a season,” said Rocky on page 9) pushed the Bulldogs to the Frontier Conference title—which Western won on a tiebreaker over Rocky and College of Idaho—and into the final slot in the NAIA playoffs.

Nourse hopes his Bulldogs roller coaster ride of a regular season helped prepare them for the playoff challenges and uncertainties ahead.

“We play tough games every single week. Lindsey Wilson played no tough games. They dominate their league; most of their games were not a challenge for them,” said Nourse, comparing his team’s season to that of a Blue Raiders team that endured only one contest with a margin of victory slimmer than four touchdowns—and the Blue Raiders won that one by 11 points.

“So, if we have any advantages, it is we are battle tested and know how to play tough, we know how to play physical, and we know how to play in close games,” said Nourse, whose Bulldogs showed a knack for allowing opponents back into games UMW seemed about to run away with, and then for pulling them out late, but also for reeling in opponents who seemed to be running away from them.

“This is my most accomplished team and my most frustrating team,” said Nourse of where the 2021 Bulldogs stand within his near decade of serving as UMW’s head coach—during which time he has guided the program from the bottom of the Frontier Conference to its peak.

“I am proud of their fight and all they’ve done. It’s been a wild ride and I’ve appreciated it--most of it anyway,” said Nourse of a 2021 season full of expectations, comebacks, fallbacks, triumphs, disappointments, surprises—good and bad—and plenty of stress.

That all continued right through the end—and beyond the scheduled end—of the 2021 regular season, with the Bulldogs forced into double overtime to beat Rocky, 50-42, on Saturday, and then forced to wait another 24 hours to find out their postseason fate with the release of the final regular season poll and airing of the NAIA playoff selection poll on Sunday evening.

That fate will take the Bulldogs a long way from their home in southwestern Montana, all the way to south-central Kentucky on Saturday to play the top-rated team in the NAIA.

“All of these playoff games, there are not a lot of tricks involved. Every game is like a first game. You can only go in with so much. You can only do so many things. You just have to find out the things you do best that will work against the things your opponent does best, and you have to execute them really well. You have to limit your mistakes down. And then you just have to go—and go there on fire,” said Nourse, who before taking over the helm of the UMW football program served for years as an assistant coach at Morningside College, which went to multiple NAIA playoffs during Nourse’s time there.

“Because this is it! Win and you stay in, or lose and you’re done. It’s a pretty cool way to play a football game, to be honest. You don’t have a ton of time to prepare, so it’s hard to get in your own way. You’ve got to really just hunker down and figure out what are the things you are best at and then go for it,” said Nourse of his approach to a postseason in which a single setback will end his team’s campaign.

“It’s a pretty simple deal--you have to win. We have to go and compete well and compete hard and give ourselves a chance. I think we have the ability to do it. It’s just a question of how will we handle all the travel and pressure, and all the intensity. Can we put all that stuff behind us and just get out on the field and play like we need to play?”


FIRST ROUND BYES: #1 Laurel, #2 Hamilton. #3 Lewistown. #4 Polson.

FIRST ROUND: #9 Miles City 21, #4 Columbia Falls 20; #12 Libby 12, #5 Billings Central 54; #10 Dillon 14, #5 Sidney 17; #11 Frenchtown 24, #6 Whitefish 13.

QUARTERFINAL ROUND: #11 Frenchtown 17, #1 Laurel 34; #5 Billings Central 28, #4 Polson 49; #9 Miles City 13, #2 Hamilton 52; #7 Sidney 28, #2 Lewistown 39.

SEMFINAL ROUND: #4 Polson 14, #1 Laurel 28; #3 Lewistown 7, #2 Hamilton 28.

CHAMPIONSHIP: Hamilton (11-1) at Laurel (10-0).