BILLINGS — With the team on solid footing carrying a 2-0 record, this was a light week for the Rocky Mountain College football program.
The Battlin’ Bears are among five Frontier Conference teams idle this week, and they couldn’t be in a much better position sitting in a tie with Eastern Oregon atop the standings as one of the league’s two remaining unbeatens.
Rocky topped Southern Oregon 42-28 in its opener at home on Aug. 28, then went on the road last week for a 33-30 win over No. 19 College of Idaho after falling in an early 10-point hole. The victory snapped the Yotes’ 11-game home winning streak.
The team rolled back into Billings from Caldwell, Idaho, at about 5 a.m. on Sunday. It spent Monday going over game film, then conducted 1 hour, 20 minute practices on both Tuesday and Wednesday before focusing more directly on the weight room and continued academic work.
“Really, we just got back to basics. We started like it was Day 1, Day 2 of fall camp,” Rocky coach Chris Stutzriem said. “Sometimes when you get in the season you get so worried about Xs and Os, game-planning and things like that that you sometimes forget the little things and overlook them.
“We wanted to do it right, and I thought the guys did a good job. We rested some guys that we needed to, but besides maybe a rolled ankle and a banged-up shoulder, we’re healthy. That’s good to see. Guys did a good job of getting back to the fundamentals of football and focusing on us.”
Stutzriem said he and his coaching staff planned to spend Friday night scouting high school games around the area and across the state at large. The team was to reconvene Sunday to begin preparation for its homecoming contest against Montana Tech on Sept. 18 at Herb Klindt Field.
This is the second 2-0 start in Stutzriem’s tenure at Rocky. The Bears won their first two games in the fall of 2019, but then went on to drop four in a row.
Stutzriem has a different feeling about his current squad.
“I think guys are playing hard and trusting what they’re being coached to do and just believing in each other,” he said. “We got down 10-0 on the road against a top-20 team in the country, but we were a different team than what I’d seen in the last year and a half. They didn’t bat an eye. They kept going.
“When we’re up we’re not looking at the scoreboard and saying, ‘OK, let’s hang on.’ We did that against Eastern Oregon last spring and ended up losing. And when we’ve gotten down in the past it’s like, ‘What’s going to happen?’ I think we’re just playing football. The big part to me is our guys understanding that these are long four-quarter games and we continue to stay the course. And we’re playing with a lot of energy and playing for each other.”
Rocky’s offense has been clicking early in the season. The Bears averaged 37.5 points and 385.5 yards in their two wins. Quarterback Nate Dick has been a catalyst. The Billings Senior alum’s 484 passing yards rank seventh in the NAIA, while his five touchdown passes are tied for third-most.
It’s been a great start for Dick, who played in just seven total games in his career prior to this season due to injuries.
“You always want everybody to stay healthy and to have a good year. I don’t think the expectations for him were any different,” Stutzriem said. “He’s doing a good job, and this is what we as coaches and the Rocky football team has seen that everybody in the outside world hasn’t always been able to see.”
Defensively, Rocky has been propped up with the help of lineman Ethan Hurst, whose 4.5 quarterback sacks and seven tackles for loss rank No. 1 nationally.
Special teams-wise, Wyatt Brusven has dropped four punts inside the 20, kicker Riley Garrett has hit 3 of 4 field goal tries, and true freshman Zaire Wilcox is averaging 21.3 yards per kickoff return with a long of 54.
“We’re playing a lot of guys and rotating a lot of guys,” Stutzriem said. “I told the team on Monday that this was the best possible scenario, going into the bye week 2-0.
“I told them to be proud of what they’re doing, but also we still were picked seventh in the conference and we’ve got another team coming in that was picked higher than us. We know that we’ve got to keep getting better, and we’re going to play a really good football team every week. There’s no off weeks.”
Rocky will welcome a Montana Tech team next week that is 0-2 and hungry for a victory. The Orediggers lost their opener to Eastern Oregon by a 26-24 score, then fell to Carroll the following week, 31-17.