BILLINGS — It’s all there for the taking for Rocky Mountain College.
The season finale Saturday at Montana Western comes down to a simple scenario for the Battlin’ Bears: Win and claim, at the very least, a share of the Frontier Conference football title and (in all likelihood) a berth in the NAIA playoffs.
“It’s up to us,” said Rocky coach Chris Stutzriem, whose team was picked in the preseason to finish seventh in the league. “Like I told the guys, we shouldn’t have to give the rah-rah speech. We shouldn’t have to do any of that. If we play well, I believe we’ll win the game. That’s it.”
No. 16-ranked Rocky (7-2) and No. 18 College of Idaho (7-2) are tied atop the Frontier standings entering the definitive week of the regular season. A Rocky win and a C of I loss at Carroll would hand the Bears the outright league title and the aforementioned playoff spoils, provided they are still ranked in the top 20 of next week’s poll.
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If both Rocky and C of I win, it’s a shared league title with Rocky receiving the automatic playoff berth (if still in the top-20) thanks to a 33-30 win over the Yotes on Sept. 4.
If C of I wins and Rocky falters, the Yotes would win the league outright. If both teams lose, it’s a three-way tie for the Frontier crown along with Western, and Rocky would gain the automatic berth, if still ranked in the top 20.
But that’s all window dressing for the Bears, who already defeated No. 23 Western (7-3, 6-3 Frontier) on Oct. 2 at Herb Klindt Field. There is only one goal; to control their destiny with another victory over the Bulldogs in the rematch.
“Sixteen weeks ago we sat here and every guy said they wanted to win a conference championship. Here we are 16 weeks later and we’ve got that opportunity,” Stutzriem said. “I think our guys are ready for it. We’re healthy and we’re ready to go.”
Western comes in having won two straight, including last week’s 35-21 victory over Montana Tech, which is the only team to beat Rocky this season.
Bulldogs quarterback Jon Jund has raised his game since throwing a pair of interceptions and taking a stern sideline lecture from coach Ryan Nourse in the first matchup with Rocky. Jund has thrown 12 touchdowns without an interception in four games since then, and Western’s offense is averaging just under 40 points per game.
“He’s just playing good football and taking care of the football,” Stutzriem said of Jund. “He’s a good player. But we have good players, too.”
Stutzriem said the goal is to try to make Western one-dimensional and to pressure Jund in the same way it did on Oct. 2. Rocky’s defense has accumulated 23 quarterback sacks so far, with edge rushers Alex Bush and Ethan Hurst combining for 12 of those.
The Bears have also spread the tackling wealth at all three levels. Linebacker Nolan McCafferty leads the team with 65 stops, but defensive lineman Wes Moeai has 55 tackles and safety Ty Reynolds has 52.
Stutzriem knows Rocky will need all hands on deck against Western.
“Like always it’s about getting to their quarterback,” Stutzriem said. “We need to tackle well and just play good team defense.”
Rocky is looking to win at least a share of the Frontier title for the first time since 2018 when Jason Petrino was coach. Prior to that, the Bears hadn’t been crowned league champs since going back-to-back under coach Jeff Lewis in 1998 and 1999.
Rocky and Western have split their past six meetings. The Bears are 12-16 in Dillon since 1990, including 3-7 in their last 10 there.
Email Greg Rachac at Greg.Rachac@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @gregrachac