DILLON – The Montana Western football team got off to a quick start against Carroll College but needed a wild finish to beat the Fighting Saints, 35-28, in a Frontier Conference matchup Saturday night at Vigilante Stadium.
Carroll College scored 21 unanswered points against Western to take a 28-21 lead but the Bulldogs came fighting back, thanks in part to its defense.
Sam Rutherford tied the score with a 47-yard touchdown run down the left sideline to tie the score at 28 on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Skyler Roope took care of business by being at the right place at the right time with 4:17 left to play.
A fumble at the Saints’ 11 landed at the feet of Roope. Roope picked up the ball and closed out the scoring with a dive into the end zone.
“I didn’t know if anybody was behind me and there was no way anyone was going to stop me,” he said of his swan dive. “That was my first touchdown since fourth grade so I was making sure I was going to get in there.”
Montana Western looked like a team ready to run Carroll out of the stadium with an impressive first quarter.
The Bulldogs all but handed the Saints their first touchdown of the game when an errant snap on a punt set Carroll up at the Western 5.
Gustavsen gave the Saints the early lead with a 2-yard run but the Bulldogs came right back.
They scored 21 straight points to close out the opening quarter, knocking the Saints back on their heels.
Rutherford tied the score at 7 with a 6-yard touchdown run, and after a Carroll three-and-out the Bulldogs were at it again.
One minute, seven seconds after Rutherford tied the score with his first touchdown of the game, Western quarterback J.D. Ferris connected with Beau Brekke for a 19-yard touchdown completion.
Hunter Thomsen, the other half of Western’s running back attack, added a 37-yard touchdown run with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We gave up 21 points in the first quarter and we kept turning the ball over,” Carroll coach Mike Van Diest said. “When you make mistakes like that, you’re not going to win very many games.”
To Carroll’s credit, and to no one’s surprise, the Saints made the necessary adjustments to slow the Western offense down.
Points and first downs suddenly became hard to get for the Bulldogs. Ferris threw for 156 yards in the first half but was held to just 56 in the second.
Western coach Ryan Nourse referred to the slowdown as a lull and admitted that he wasn’t surprised by it.
“Carroll has won how many national championships?” Nourse exclaimed. “They play so hard all of the time but we just kept on banging away at them.”
Carroll was able to take advantage of what its defense was providing. Gustavsen got the Saints back to within one touchdown with a 4-yard touchdown run with just over 6 minutes to play in the half.
The Saints turned to quarterback J.T. Linder in the second half and he did a good job in keeping the momentum on the Carroll sideline. Linder drove the Saints to the end zone on their first drive of the second half. Gustavsen closed the deal with a 5-yard touchdown run that tied the score at 21.
Carroll regained the lead later in the third quarter when Linder lofted a pass to a wide open Shane Sipes in the middle of the end zone.
The Bulldogs came back to tie the score when Rutherford rumbled down the field for his 47-yard touchdown.
The teams exchanged a couple of punts early in the fourth quarter but a fumble by Carroll’s Ryan Walsh, and the recovery by Western’s Jay Owens at the Carroll 32 gave the Bulldogs a chance to go ahead.
Carroll’s defense stepped up to stop Thomsen on fourth-and-1 at the Saints 12.
Two plays later, however, Roope made his play of the game by snatching up the fumble and scoring the winning touchdown.
“That was a weird game,” Nourse added. “We came out fast and then just stalled. It’s not always going to be pretty.”