Rocky Mountain football looking for faster start as it heads to Montana Tech

September 17, 2016 GMT

Rocky Mountain College’s football team moved into the NAIA rankings this week and is coming off an impressive come-from-behind win at home over rival Carroll.

Like any coach, however, Jason Petrino still believes his team has plenty to work on. Near the top of that list is a faster start.

The Battlin’ Bears trailed Carroll 20-7 at halftime last week before scoring two touchdowns in the second half to pull out the one-point win.

A week earlier, playing at DCS Northern Colorado, Rocky fell behind 28-0 after the first quarter and 42-0 at halftime. The Battlin’ Bears played much better in the second half before losing 56-27.

Even in the opener, a 31-21 win at MSU-Northern, Rocky was scoreless in the first quarter before scoring 21 points in the second quarter.

“I’d like to say you get what you emphasize, but we’ve been emphasizing it for two weeks,” said Petrino, the team’s first-year coach. “It’s about starting out focused. It’s almost like we try to feel our opponents out, as well as ourselves, rather than just reacting and playing. It’s about going out there and playing loose, playing fast and figuring it out as we go along.”

Rocky’s win over Carroll left it as one of only two unbeaten teams in the Frontier Conference standings, joining Eastern Oregon.

The Battlin’ Bears are 25th in this week’s NAIA coaches’ poll, the first time they have been ranked since October 2014. There are six Frontier teams ranked this week, led by No. 10 Eastern Oregon.

“We haven’t been ranked in a while, but it doesn’t mean much at this point of the season,” said Brendon Johnson, a senior defensive lineman. “This is for sure the best conference in the nation. We just tear each other apart all season. The (team) that comes out usually ends up in the (NAIA) championship. That’s our goal, but one thing at a time.”

A fast start this week certainly would help a Rocky team facing the defending conference champions. Tech started the season No. 7 in the country before losing on a last-second field goal at Carroll in the opener.

The Orediggers, ranked 13th this week, beat MSU-Northern 35-10 last week to earn their first win.

Petrino hasn’t shied away from telling his team this week the importance of the matchup. It’s the final of three games against teams the Battlin’ Bears also will face in their final three games.

In between, Rocky will play four games against team from the “other side” of the Frontier Conference. That includes a home game against Southern Oregon, last year’s NAIA runner-up, and at fellow leader Eastern Oregon.

“He’s told us this is like a championship game, that we have multiple championship games during the season,” Johnson said. “If we can win this game, it gets rid of what everybody thinks of us … (and) we’re a legitimate contender for the season.

“Last week’s win was big, but we beat Carroll last year too. It’s a cool win, but we have to put them together. We can’t hang our hat on one win.”