Football game features turnovers, new faces

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Yards after catch

UMW senior Nathan Simkins, a Dillon native, takes a short pass and turns it into a big gain during Saturday’s scrimmage. J.P. Plutt photo

A group of old pals got together on Saturday in Dillon, some for the last time, and smashed into each other for a couple hours.

So, it went last weekend for members of the University of Montana Western football team, which used its 2021 Spring Game on Saturday for its usual purposes—to evaluate newcomers and gauge the progress of returning players at the end of spring camp.

And for an unusual purpose in this most unusual of years—to wish fond farewells to some seniors for whom this annual intra-squad exercise represented their final action in Bulldog uniforms.

“Just being around these guys every day has been great,” said Sean Miller, who’s been in the mix at quarterback for UMW over the past four years.

“We say we’re a family. I’ll miss that the most. We’re more than just friends, we’re brothers.”

Miller concluded his college career in about the best way possible—tossing a TD on the final play of the Spring Game.

“It was only fitting it was to Nate Simkins,” smiled Miller of the long play-action pass off a feigned end-around to the wide open Bulldog wide receiver.

“We came in here together in 2016, and he’s been one of my best friends ever since,” said Miller, who is graduating with a degree in business administration.

“And I’ll always remember my first touchdown pass—it was to Nate at Rocky, my sophomore year.”

During a halftime Senior Day ceremony, Miller joined fellow football seniors Costin Allen and Brady Schulz—all three Academic All-Conference honorees during their time at UMW—for a halftime ceremony, during which student video manager Bonner Applegate was also honored, as were UMW volleyball seniors Tannah Sellers and McKenna Fink, whose Senior Day scheduled during their spring season got put off due to a COVID game cancellation.

After the seniors got their dues, the UMW footballers went back on the field and got back at each other in simulated game action.

“It was fun just to get the game-like feeling back,” said Simkins, who has persevered through a long drought in official action due to the program opting out of the Frontier Conference’s recently completed mini-spring season of 2021 that came in the wake of the cancellation of its Fall 2020 season due to the pandemic.

“We haven’t played a game in about a year and a half. Everybody was excited for it and treated it as a game,” said Simkins, who had established himself as one of the league’s most potent receiving threats in his first three seasons.

“It’s been hard, just going to practice and lifting knowing we weren’t going to play. But the team has rallied around each other,” said Simkins, who grew up in Dillon and starred for the Beaverhead County High School football team.

“We knew that if we come back in the fall as a collective unit, we will be a force to be reckoned with, that we’ll be pretty good out there.”

Simkins indeed looked pretty good out there Saturday, hauling in passes and scoring, as did his fellow BCHS grad Pete Gibson, who got in a lot of reps at running back.

“He had a great game,” said UMW Head Coach Ryan Nourse of Gibson, who was impressed by Gibson’s showing during all of spring camp.

“Pete Gibson did outstanding. He gained weight. He got faster. He’s got great football intelligence,” said Nourse of the freshman who is likely to see plenty of time this season on the field at RB, along with redshirt freshman Colten McPhee and Reese Neville, a D-1 senior transfer from the University of Nevada.

“I think we showed that at running back we’re as good as anybody,” said Nourse, whose defensive backs also looked impressive Saturday.

“Overall, I’ve been really pleased with our defense, especially with the secondary all spring. These guys showed up to really compete and to compete hard today,” said Nourse of a unit that grabbed four interceptions during the Spring Game.

“But I’d say offensively, I was highly disappointed. I don’t think guys showed up. A few guys did. But not enough to say, ‘Man, we’re in a position where we can win a conference championship,’” said Nourse, who was impressed with how many fans showed up to Vigilante Stadium on Saturday for the Spring Game.

“I was a little surprised with how many people were here and are here today,” said Nourse of the crowd that filled most of the homeside stand.

“It was good to get out in front of folks again.”

The Bulldogs will return to Vigilante Stadium for their 2021 season opener on Aug. 28, when they take on Carroll College, champions of the Frontier Conference’s 2021 spring miniseason.