BILLINGS — Chris Stutzriem is taking over a Rocky Mountain College football program that went 8-4 last fall, won the Frontier Conference and advanced to the NAIA postseason.
He knows expectations will be high for his first year as head coach.
“That’s what we want,” Stutzriem said. “I didn’t want to come into a situation where people are happy with two or three wins. We know the pressure is on, but our kids handle it so well.
“At the end of the day it’s football. It’s 11 on 11. As long as we’re having fun and we’re relaxed, the football will take care of itself.”
Stutzriem and the Battlin’ Bears wrapped up spring ball with their Green & Gold Spring Game on Saturday in front of a sizable crowd at Herb Klindt Field. True to Stutzriem’s philosophy, it was one of the more fun and relaxed football settings you’ll see, complete with the coaching staff going head to head in a spirited 7 on 7 period.
The rosters for the game were determined by a draft, with the selections being made by Rocky's captains: quarterback Nate Dick, defensive end Ryder Rice and receiver Lucas Overton (Green Team), and QB Drew Korf, defensive lineman Denton Wetherell and linebacker Dallas Mack (Gold Team).
In the end, Korf and the Gold Team prevailed over Dick and the Green Team as running back Colton Williams scored on a 3-yard sprint to break a tie on the final play of the day.
Based on the scoring system — six points for a touchdown, six for a defensive takeaway, three for an offensive first down, three for a three-and-out, etc. — the Gold Team outpaced the Green Team, 86-80.
The score was tied after the Gold defense stopped the Green offense on fourth down, which resulted in a four-point swing. That set up one last sudden-death play. Williams did the rest with a tough run to the end zone.
“Colton came over and he said, ‘Coach, give me Falcon,’ which is an outside zone play,” said Stutzriem, who was hired at Rocky to replace previous coach Jason Petrino, now the defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois. “What great effort he had, and what a great job by the receivers on the edge. Just a good effort to get it in there.”
“Offense and defense both made plays,” said Dick, a Billings Senior product who is expected to compete with Korf into fall camp for the starting QB job. “We just had fun with it. The coaches preached that in the team meetings: Come out here and just be yourself.
“Come out, have fun and compete, but the most important thing is to have fun and just get better.”
The quarterback battle provides the most intrigue for the upcoming season, and Dick and Korf were watched closely by Stutzriem throughout the scrimmage. The versatile Dick had the better start — he accounted for two touchdowns early, including a pretty 30-yard corner fade to Overton.
But Korf settled in as the day progressed and found a rhythm, eventually hitting Josh Kraft three times on one drive, including a 13-yard bullet over the middle for a touchdown off of play action.
“Drew had a phenomenal spring. He played really, really well,” Dick said. “We’re just going to continue that into the summer and into fall camp.
“Coach Stutz is going to pick the right guy. We have no worry about that. Who that will be is totally up to him, and whoever it is will put this team in a good spot to win games.”
Two of day’s biggest plays were made on the defensive side of the ball.
In one instance, Dick appeared to connect with Carter Garsjo on a short touchdown pass but the ball was dislodged and intercepted by defensive back Ty Reynolds, who raced down the sideline for a big return before being caught.
Later, the veteran Wetherell snuffed out a screen pass, intercepted Dick and rumbled 30 yards for a touchdown.
Another of the day’s defensive standouts was the All-America pass-rusher Rice, who had multiple quarterback sacks. Rice, from Savage, enters his senior season with 26 career QB takedowns.
Stutzriem has been pleased with the work of new defensive coordinator Joe Dunning, who was plucked away by the Battlin’ Bears from Montana State, where he had been an intern on Jeff Choate’s coaching staff.
“Joe’s been outstanding,” Stutzriem said. “I’m just so happy we were lucky enough to steal him away. There’s not a doubt in my mind that we’re going to have a successful defense. He’s going to put players in great positions.”
Stutzriem told 406mtsports.com on Saturday that ex-Montana State and Utah defensive back Tre’von Strong is transferring to Rocky to play his final season of eligibility.
Stutzriem said Strong, a former standout at Billings Skyview, has signed with the team but is not yet enrolled in school, which precluded him from practicing in the spring.
“We’re excited to have him. He’s a playmaker. He’s going to give us another element in the secondary,” Stutzriem said. “It’s always good to bring a local kid back home.”