Devan Bridgewater

Carroll’s Devan Bridgewater slides into the pocket and looks for an open receiver during Saturday’s game against Western at Nelson Stadium. The Saints came back to defeat the Bulldogs 33-29.

HELENA — The Carroll College football team has already exceeded expectations in 2019.

It has five wins and have snapped a four-year streak of losing seasons.

But if you know coach Troy Purcell, you know he sets the bar even higher.

The Saints have their eye on an NAIA at-large playoff berth.

Not bad for a team that was picked to finished seventh out of eight in the coaches’ and media preseason polls.

The only problem is that No. 17 Montana Tech stands in their way and is looking to accomplish the same goal.

With so much at stake, here are three storylines leading up to Saturday’s game.

1. Stopping the Oredigger run

Montana Tech likes running the ball.

In fact, it really likes running the ball.

The Orediggers are ranked third in the Frontier Conference in rushing yards per game behind the College of Idaho and Carroll.

And the most shocking part is that they are using a pair of underclassmen.

Blake Counts and Tyler Folkes have had to fill in for senior all-conference running back Jed Fike after suffering a season-ending knee injury.

But with how good Montana Tech’s run production has been, Carroll’s run defense has been pretty dominant, as well.

The Saints are third in rushing yards allowed per game and have allowed just six rushing touchdowns this season.

An intriguing matchup, isn’t it?

2. Carroll freshmen bounce back

Carroll freshmen quarterback Devan Bridgewater and running back Matthew Burgess couldn’t have asked for a better way to start their college football careers.

Burgess ranked second among Frontier Conference running backs in rushing yards per game and first in touchdowns.

Bridgewater, on the other hand, is fourth in passing.

But the two struggled last week up in Havre against Montana State Northern.

Bridgewater completed just 34 percent of his passes, while Burgess was held to 54 yards on the ground.

If the Saints are going to pull off the upset, both will need to return to form.

Of course, Montana Tech also realizes that.

3. Harnessing senior day emotion

It all comes down to one final game at Nelson Stadium.

Carroll’s 15 seniors will be running onto their home field one final time.

But they can’t let the fact that their college football careers are coming to an end get them down.

They still have one thing left to do.

The Saints haven’t had much success against Montana Tech, winning twice over the last seven meetings.

Their last win at home came in September 2016.

What better way to end your college football career than with a win against a conference rival and potentially knock the Orediggers out of the playoff picture?

And who knows? Maybe two straight wins to end the year will be enough for Carroll to get into the playoffs.

Only time will tell.

Kickoff is scheduled for noon.

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Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at ryan.kuhn@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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