HELENA — Carroll College senior running back Major Ali vividly remembers his first game.
It was against Montana Tech and he said it didn’t go the way he would have liked.
“It was a 3rd and long,” Ali said with a smile. “I kind of messed up, so I got pulled for a little bit.”
Ali finished with just 20 rushing yards on five carries.
Fast forward three years later, Ali watched another freshman make his college debut.
True freshman Matthew Burgess finished with 15 carries for 106 rushing yards and a 3-yard touchdown run on the opening drive this past Saturday.
But there were no hard feelings. Ali was ecstatic for the teammate that he had taken under his wing.
“He’s talented,” Ali said. “He runs fast. You saw his speed on Saturday. He can run in between the tackles, outside the tackles, can catch the ball and block. He is just a talented kid.”
Burgess was no stranger to running the ball in high school.
During his senior season, he ran all over the 6A Special District 7 League for Sheldon High School.
He compiled 1,829 yards and 26 touchdowns, but he said he is still adjusting to the college game.
“If you get him the ball, he will do his thing,” Ali said. “I’m just so happy for him.”
Burgess was not the only freshman to show that they can be an impact for Carroll College.
Devan Bridgewater was the first freshman quarterback to start the first game of the season in more than 10 years.
He only completed 45 percent of his passes, but threw for 326 yards and a touchdown to keep the Saints within reach.
Carroll coach Troy Purcell described Bridgewater as a veteran quarterback with plenty of high school experience.
“We wanted to bring in a transfer who was a freshman and who would compete,” he said.
Other freshmen who got playing time include offensive lineman Hunter Mecham and corner back Zach Spiroff.
The Saints have entered a new era. Purcell’s message to win games comes down to one thing. It doesn’t matter if he has a freshman or a senior in any given position.
“We are going to put the best guys we can in there,” Purcell said. “It goes back to the same theme of having competition. If they earn the right, there is no sense in saving them.”
Burgess’ 106 rushing yards was the most by a Carroll running back since last season’s game against Montana State Northern when Ryan Arntson ran for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
Bridgewater’s 326 passing yards was also the most since JT Linder threw for 330 yards in a win against Montana Tech in September 2016.