By Ryan Divish
No team wants to start out the season 0-3. But even worse for the Rocky Mountain College Battlin' Bears the possibility of starting out 0-3 in the Frontier Conference is very real.
Rocky fell to 0-2 on the season last week following a 20-3 loss to Carroll College in the Saints season opener. RMC will now face MSU-Northern in Billings on Saturday.
Rocky's 2002 schedule starts off with four consecutive conference game to start the season. Next weekend they will travel to Dillon to take on UM-Western. The Battlin' Bears will finally getting a non-conference reprieve on Oct. 5 when they face Southern Oregon for their homecoming festivities.
The Northern-Rocky game will be the only Frontier Conference game this weekend. Carroll will host NCAA Division II Central Washington University while Montana Tech continues its three game road trip traveling to Spokane to take on Whitworth College. UM-Western will have a bye week.
Carroll College quarterback Tyler Emmert completed 21 of 31 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for another score to lead the Fighting Saints over Rocky in their season opener. It was a successful college debut for Emmert who took over the starting quarterback duties after his brother J.D. graduated. However, Emmert got a little bit of help from his all-American tight end Casey FitzSimmons.
FitzSimmons, a Chester grad, caught eight passes for 143 yards and a touchdown and set up another score with a 66-yard catch.
"It's real nice to come in as a freshman and have an All-America tight end to throw to," Emmert told the Billings Gazette.
While Emmert was deferring much of the credit to his tight end, FitzSimmons bounced a few a compliments back at his teammate.
"You've got to give that kid credit," FitzSimmons told the Gazette. "A redshirt freshman who hasn't stepped on a college football field really delivered the ball today. He made all of his checks on blitzes. He did a heck of a job."
Carroll's victory wasn't a walk in the park. The Fighting Saints led only 7-3 at halftime. But they could have been very easily down at the half. Rocky was inside of the Saints 35-yard line on five occasions in the first half and failed to score including a 14-yard touchdown pass being called back because of a holding call.
Rocky's Benton Johnson completed 33 of 58 passes for 285 yards but was intercepted three times. Former Havre High grad Jarrod Wirt collected one of those interceptions.
Carroll, ranked number three in the NAIA, will face a nationally ranked opponent itself. Central Washington is currently ranked 22nd in Division II and is coming off a stunning 43-7 upset of defending Division II national champion University of North Dakota. Game time is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Carroll's Nelson Stadium and will be part of the Fighting Saints homecoming activities.
Montana Tech's three game road trip didn't get off to an auspicious start. The Orediggers were shellacked 50-6 by the Division I-AA Eastern Washington Eagles in Pullman, WA.
EWU quarterback Josh Blankenship completed 14 of 26 passes for 226 yards and five touchdowns. Blankenship, a transfer from the University of Tulsa, hooked up with Kyler Randall for four of his TD passes.
Tech's only score came when back-up quarterback Aaron Johnson found Brian Styck for a 5-yard touchdown pass. The Diggers missed the extra point which made the score 43-6.
Orediggers head coach Bob Green tried to maintain a positive spin despite the loss.
"I thought we ran the ball really well at times at times,'' Green told the Montana Standard. "Defensively, we executed our schemes really well. But we missed some tackles."
Tech will return to Washington again this weekend. This time they travel to Spokane to face the Whitworth College Pirates. The Pirates are 1-0 after a dramatic 27-26 win over Bethel (Minn.). Whitworth is led by quarterback Scott Biglin who threw for 402 yards and two touchdowns last weekend.
In the last meeting between the two squads, Whitworth defeated Tech 28-13 in 1998.
UM-Western will take the weekend off after a come from behind victory over in Eastern Oregon in La Grande, Ore, last weekend.
Trailing 21-17 late in fourth quarter, Bulldog quarterback Travis Kirby found wide receiver Jake Larson for a 28-yard touchdown pass to give Western a 24-21 victory.
Kirby completed 29-53 for 374 yards and two touchdowns but did throw four interceptions,but it was Larson who was the star. The Butte High grad caught nine passes for 213 yards and was named this week's Frontier Conference offensive player of the week.
The Bulldogs will take the field on Sept. 23 when they host Rocky.
Besides Wirt and Fitzsimmons, there are several area athletes playing football for FrontierConference schools. Their teammate Rhett Crites, a KG grad, is the top kicker in the Frontier and one of the top kickers in country. Crites is on several pre-season all-American lists.
At Rocky, Havre High graduate Kevin Harada is seeing time as a true freshman. Listed as a linebacker, Harada will be seeing some playing time on special teams this weekend. Malta grad Chris Simonton is also on the Rocky roster.
A pair of local athletes are on the Montana Tech roster. Brian Schlepp of Chester and Lucas Paugh of Chinook are both sophomores for the Diggers while Tel Sterner from KG is a freshman for UM-Western.
Besides Larson, UM-Western punter-kicker Eric Zahler and Carroll defensive back Jeff Shirley were also named Frontier Conference football players of the week Monday.
Zahler scored on one of two field goal attempts the 3-point margin of victory and punted three times for 161 yards, an average of 53.7 yards.
This was the second consecutive week that Zahler, a 5-10, 205-pound junior from Yakima, Wash., received the player-of-the-week honor for special teams.
The defensive honor went to Shirley, a 6-4, 220-pound freshman from Centerville. He made eight solo tackles and helped on three others, batted down two passes and added two quarterback.