UMW comes from behind to beat Carroll, 26-22 before thousands of Bulldog fans

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
Flying start

University of Montana Western running back Reese Neville soars into the end zone during the Bulldogs 26-22 season-opening win over Carroll College on Saturday in Dillon. M.P. Regan photo

The contest proved so close, so exciting, the stands so packed, the atmosphere so charged at last weekend’s 2021season opener for the University of Montana Western football team, it could have been a playoff game at the end of the 2019 season.

Instead of one the Bulldogs contested after almost two years away from competitive play.

And the manner in which UMW won the game made it seem like it had been tacked onto the 1969 season.

Using an old-school “run and run some more” offense and stingy, hardnosed defense, Montana Western bludgeoned its way to a come-from-behind, 26-22 victory over visiting Carroll College on Vigilante Stadium in Dillon on Saturday afternoon.

“That was a dogfight, honestly. It’s been two years, 651 days since we played a game. There was a lot of rust to break off,” said UMW defensive lineman Tanner Harrell on the Bulldogs’ tight win over the champions of the Frontier Conference mini-spring league season UMW chose to forego.

“But we’ve really come together these last two years. And nothing feels better than getting our first win in two years,” said the 270-pound sophomore who contributed a sack and countless quarterback hurries to the winning effort.

“That was fun,” smiled Montana Western Head Coach Ryan Nourse of the Bulldogs’ tense victory.

“I can’t believe we won. We turned the ball over a bunch of times and made a lot of mistakes,” conceded Nourse, whose team coughed up four turnovers, two in the opponent’s red zone.

“And that included me calling plays,” said Nourse, who also serves as the team’s offensive coordinator.

“We just did a lot of really dumb things, just first-game mishaps. But we played really hard and played together, so we were able to pull it off,” said Nourse, whose Bulldogs needed a long fourth-quarter drive capped by a one-yard run by QB Jon Jund with 3:45 remaining to pull off the comeback win.

The Bulldogs then kept Carroll from pulling a win off for themselves by stifling a pair of late Saint drives.

“We’ve preached finishing these last few years. I think everybody on defense was just ready to finish and answer the call,” said Harrell.

“When you’re called on, you’ve gotta show up.”

Western also pulled off the win, in general, by running the football on offense, a lot, all game long, starting on its first drive, which ended with a fouryard TD run by RB Reese Neville just over 11 minutes before Jund scored the second UMW touchdown on a run from three yards out.

“We had planned to throw the ball more than we did,” said Nourse, whose top receiver, Nate Simkins, got forced out of the game in the first half by injury.

“But I felt we could dominate them in the run game, impose our will, and we were able to do that,” said Nourse, whose team rushed 53 times for 240 yards and four TDs against the traditionally tough Saints defense.

“We knew they’d be ready for our passing game, but they probably had no idea about what kind of running game we had,” said Neville, who accumulated

169 of those UMW rushing yards and two the touchdowns in a performance that announced him as UMW’s next feature back in the punishing mode of Hunter Thomsen and Sam Rutherford.

Before Jund’s second TD run of the day, Carroll had taken the lead with 16 unanswered points—the final seven coming with nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Carroll QB Devan Bridgewater to Tony Collins in the left side of the endzone.

That TD toss came on a play that seemed to work all day for the Carroll offense—the broken play, which the marauding UMW defensive front gave the Saints plenty of chances to practice on Saturday.

“Our d-line had a phenomenal day putting pressure on their quarterback,” said UMW DB Kameron Rouser of a unit that registered 5 sacks, 1.5 of them by James Aragon.

“Sadly, they scored in the fourth quarter on that scramble play. But we picked each other up and got to the sideline and talked it out, got it back together and got back out here and made two pretty good stands,” added Rouser of a pair of late Carroll drives that went nowhere slow, discourtesy of the host’s unaccomodating defense.

The UMW offense then answered its final call by closing out the win with a late clock-killing drive completed by a first-down run by Neville.

“Our o-line was amazing. They are a band of brothers. They communicate so well. Through thick and thin I know they are getting the job done,” said Neville.

“They were not going to stop us,” said UMW offensive lineman Ethan Toguchi-Tani of Carroll’s desperate efforts to stifle UMW’s final drive and force a punt to get the ball back for one more drive for the Saint offense.

“We preach on the o-line, JYD,” said the three-year starter, using the acronym for “junk yard dog”—as in, fight like one to get the job done.

“Run the ball, and be physical. Simple as that,” said the Hawaian import.

“It was pure joy and excitement for me. I’ve been practicing for two years, going through fall camps and spring ball. To finally get back out there in a game was just amazing.”

The more than 3000 fans who packed the stands on both sides of the field and the parking lot behind the home stand before, during and after the game shared that sentiment.

“It’s amazing, it really is. Look at this crowd. Everybody has been waiting for two years to get back to this. They’ve been chomping at the bit,” said Donnie Keltz, who attended his first UMW football game in 1967, when his father served as the school’s head football coach, prior to his long stint as the Bulldogs basketball head coach.

“I’ve seen some big crowds here, but this is as big as any,” continued Keltz, who said getting to engage with members of that crowd individually acted as a highlight on Saturday for him and many others.

“It’s just good to see everybody again, especially the old alumni you went to school with,” said Keltz, a longtime member of the volunteer sideline crew during UMW football games.

“It’s great to be here with the crowd and see live football again,” said Shane Puyear, who attended Saturday’s Western-Carroll game.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a crowd like this,” added Puyear, who played football at Western.

“It’s good to see people supporting the program and coming out and supporting Western and having a good time,” added the local banker.

“It’s been awesome,” asserted Nicole Booth, who attended the game and the tailgating festivities with her husband, Chris, and two of their bulldogs.

“This is actually our first game in three years,” said Chris Booth, whose family got kept home from Bulldog football games in 2019 by a double litter of 14 canine bulldogs showing up early in the season.

“Back then, there were 10–12 people out here,” said Booth of the size of tailgating celebrations when he first started attending games a decade ago, and have grown exponentially since, particularly in recent years.

“This is just amazing.”