DILLON – Montana Western’s offense looked like it spent part of its Saturday afternoon doing everything in its power to lose its Frontier Conference opener against College of Idaho, at Vigilante Stadium
The Bulldogs’ defense, however, made sure that didn’t happen and propped up the entire team in a 16-14 victory.
Western turned the ball over four times but its defense came up big for each one by preventing any points from being scored as a result. While that was gratifying to a point, it wasn’t exactly satisfying to watch from the Bulldog sideline.
“I’ll take it,” said Western coach Ryan Nourse. “It was the ugliest one (win) I’ve ever received. I’ve lost a lot of games like that so maybe some karma is coming back.
“We did everything that you tell your team to avoid doing in the first game. We did every single possible thing and still ended up winning so that’s a good thing.
The Bulldogs didn’t wait long to realize that their defense was going to be a factor in this one.
Western stopped COI on its first possession but Devyn Christian fumbled the punt, setting up the Yotes back up at the Bulldog 17.
The ensuing drive stalled at the 9 when quarterback Darius-James Peterson was stopped on fourth-and-2.
The Bulldogs finally tried out their new offense but only for four plays. This time it was running back Hunter Thomsen who couldn’t hang on to the ball and fumbled it back to the Yotes at the Western 29.
COI drove to the Western 3 before the drive stalled. The Yotes opted to go for a field goal, which was blocked.
“In hindsight, we have a young team and we made some mistakes,” COI coach Mike Moroski said of the two early-scoring chances. “It was one thing here and we were nervous and jittery and it’s amazing. Those things do come back and haunt you sometimes.
“You never know how the complexion of a game changes from that but it is what it is. We had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter and we weren’t able to do it.”
Turnovers weren’t the only area in which the Bulldogs struggled early. Open receivers had trouble catching the balls that were thrown to them, short-circuiting Western’s attempt to get its offense going.
Linebacker Christian Hanser said that the two early turnovers merely helped the Western defense get pumped up early in the game.
“It helps because it brought up the momentum and everything like that,” he said. “That was the biggest thing.
“We played as a team the whole way. We won as a team.”
The Yotes finally finished a drive early in the second quarter, when Peterson scored on a one-yard dive, and enjoyed the 6-0 lead despite having the PAT blocked.
That drive got Western’s offense to focus a little better, and Bennett Gibson engineered the Bulldogs’ offense through a 76-yard drive that ended when he connected with Ryan Sullivan for an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Freshman kicker Mark Kharchenko gave the Bulldogs the lead with the PAT and added a pair of field goals before halftime. Kharchenko booted another field goal on Western’s opening drive of the third quarter, giving the Bulldogs a 16-6 advantage.
The Yotes used their ensuing drive to push to the Western 20 but Western safety Dustin Baum stepped in front of a Peterson pass to get the ball back.
Western was unable to move the ball and gave up two points when the snap on a punt attempt sailed through the back of the end zone.
The Yotes climbed back into the contest midway through the fourth quarter when Peterson tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Keegan Crafton, cutting their deficit to two points.
COI didn’t hesitate in deciding to go for the tie on the conversion but Hanser and Distin Pickens stopped Peterson well short of the goal.
Western kept things interesting by fumbling the ball back to COI a couple more times during the closing minutes.
Thomsen lost the handle after the Bulldogs had driven to the Yotes’ 11 for a put-it-away score. Trevor Henderson made the recovery but COI was forced to punt the ball with 2:57 remaining.
Western did a good job of working on the clock during its final possession of the game. Gibson kept the ball on a key run on a fourth-and-3 call that went for seven yards and a first down.
A 17-yard scamper by Thomsen put the ball at the 3, before another the powerful running back gave the ball back to the Yotes. With only 18 seconds remaining, however, there was nothing the Yotes could do.
Yes, the Bulldogs climbed to 1-0 in the conference standings while Yotes slipped to 0-1. But each coach saw Saturday’s game as a sign that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“I want them to know it’s a long season,” Moroski said of his players. “We’ve got to keep going. If you’re in it long enough, if you’re in this conference, you’ll win some close ones and you’ll lose some close ones.”
Nourse added, “It’s matter of catching the ball and holding on to it. That was an issue. Sometimes you’re going to run into a game like that. We fumbled on long yardage, we fumbled two times inside the red zone, one inside the 10 so it was really a poorly-executed offensive day.
“We’ve never had that issue. I think pride will take care of that. We have good kids here. They will not be pleased with that type of performance and I doubt it will repeat itself.”
Western will be on the road next Saturday at Weber State, while College of Idaho travels to Northern Colorado.