HELENA -- The second game of the season: A chance to make amends for a bad loss to Montana Tech and a week to show some growth.
Somebody forgot to tell the Saints.
Carroll took its second consecutive loss of the season and lost its home opener for the first time since 2011 on Saturday when Rocky Mountain College tromped the Saints, 40-14.
Coach Mike Van Diest shouldered the blame for his defense underwhelming in a second consecutive game.
“I think I have to do a better job defensively,” he said. “We’re last in the league in defense. We give up over 40 points per game and 500 yards per game. That comes down to what we’re doing schematically. I like some of the things we made changes to a year ago. At times it was good. Other times, I may be trying to meld too many things together. I don’t know.”
In the postgame press conference, Van Diest owned the loss as much as he could before reviewing the game film and learning exactly what befuddled his Saints. The players and coaches sat in a lengthy meeting before the players shuffled out of a classroom in the PE Center, walking silently across the gym’s hardwood and heading to the locker room nearly 30 minutes after the game’s final horn.
“We just talked about some things that maybe are misinterpreted about the things I say at halftime,” Van Diest said. “Players were concerned that maybe we need to do more as coaches. I need to do more as head coach to keep them fired up a little bit. They just wanted to make sure we are all on the same page.”
As the Saints tried a new look out on Saturday, matching purple tops lettered in gold with their gold helmets and pants, the Saints still looked the same as they did a week ago against Tech: Decent for a half, but unable to put a full game together.
The Saints opened the game with a promising drive, but faced a fourth-and-3 from the 25-yard line. Without hesitation, they went for it. Quarterback Tanner Gustavsen began to scramble. As he looked for a receiver, he flung a prayer downfield and was picked off near the goal line. The Battlin’ Bears didn’t take long to flip the field.
After two runs, Jacob Bakken hit monstrous tight end Darneail Jenkins for a 42-yard gain, effectively undoing all of Carroll’s progress to that point.
Rocky stalled up after a penalty inside the red zone and settled for a 34-yard field goal by Griff Amies.
As Carroll started its second drive, the Saints went to a direct snap to Eric Dawson, who picked up a couple yards. The next play, Ryan Walsh tried to run to the right side of the line and coughed up the ball.
Rocky recovered and went to work.
“Billy Williams made a huge hit on the first caused fumble,” Battlin’ Bears coach Jason Petrino said. “It was a big hit by Billy. As Carroll was trying to come back, we were able to get our hands on some balls. It was great that our kids were able to go out and play four quarters. I think it was coach (Chuck) Morrell who told me you get to enjoy wins in this league for about five minutes.”
A week after not having a single turnover, the Saints had two in their first two possessions.
Four plays later, Bakken kept it and rushed four yards for a touchdown.
Rocky forced a three-and-out and drove 60 yards for another field goal to push the game to 13-0.
The Saints’ offense mustered a pair of first downs in their next drive, but a sack by Ryder Rice, one of two on the day, and an incomplete pass from Tanner Gustavsen to Eric Dawson ended the drive at midfield.
“We did have a few good moments,” Gustavsen said. “We need to come out with a little more fire. I think we’re really close on a lot of things. It’s the matter of getting the right leverage on people and just doing our assignment. I think we’re really close to breaking a lot more plays than we did today.”
Bakken picked up a first down, hitting Lucas Overton for 11 yards. Then, Mason Melby was met between the line by Alex Hurlbut and Alec Basterrechea for a one-yard loss. Melby made up for it on his very next play, breaking free for a 70-yard touchdown run to put Rocky up 20-0 with 7:43 left before half.
Before the half, Rocky picked up a third-and-5 and third-and-9 to keep their offense on the field, a drive culminating in an 11-yard touchdown run from Sam Sparks.
The Saints stared at a 27-0 deficit at halftime, and a real threat of being shut out in their home opener.
Things didn’t improve drastically in the second half for Carroll, though there certainly were a few positives. Carroll forced a few stops to start the half.
“Offensively, I wish we would have came out with more firepower to start the second half,” Petrino said. “We went two series and didn’t get any points.”
Carroll landed a deep shot when Gustavsen hit Shane Sipes on a 57-yard pass. Sipes nearly juked his way into the end zone, but came up one yard shy. A play later, Major Ali rushed in for a one-yard score.
“The offense got flowing a little bit,” Gustavsen said. “Everybody settled in. We did the no-huddle a little bit. We got a flow going. In the first half we need to find that flow.”
Going into the fourth quarter up 27-7, Rocky didn’t waste any time squashing the idea of a comeback. The first play in the final frame saw Bakken hit Prince Shonola on a deep ball for 40 yards. Two plays later, Melby, who finished with 128 yards on 12 carries, got his second score of the day.
Carroll added one more touchdown after a muffed punt, when Gustavsen hooked up with Joe Farris on a 25-yard score.
Two more Rocky field goals and the Battlin’ Bears had put up their first 40-point game under their second-year coach.
The Saints were without Beaugh Meyer and Isazah King on Saturday.
Van Diest confirmed the Saints’ starting defensive end will be out for the season with a torn biceps. King is expected back in practice on Sunday.
“Those are unfortunate things,” Van Diest said. “There are other people that have to step up. They practice and the assistant coaches have to prepare some things. There’s something we haven’t done a lot of. We don’t have a lot of depth in terms of experience at backup on the defense. Offensive line we don’t have experienced depth. We have depth but not experience. Those are places we have to get better.”
With Van Diest placing so much of the onus on himself, he said that didn’t mean he had to completely rewire the Saints.
“I don’t want to change ships and panic, but if the defense we’re running right now isn’t good enough schematic-wise, maybe we don’t have the players that can run it that we’d like to,” he said. “Or maybe I have to change it up a bit and change the front seven a little bit to stop the big runs.
"I’ve called four blitzes in two games. And three of them have gone against us for big gains. Maybe I have to quit doing that. That’s putting players in bad positions.”
While Van Diest ponders the team’s steps forward, at least this much is clear: Carroll is 0-2.