Rocky's Sam Sparks

Billings Senior product Sam Sparks leads Rocky Mountain College in rushing. The sophomore running back had 156 yards and three touchdowns last week in the Battlin' Bears 52-3 win over Montana State-Northern.

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette staff

BILLINGS — Before Jason Petrino’s team starts feeling a little too good about the season, he offered a little reminder.

“Our record is exactly the same what it was a year ago,” said the coach of the Rocky Mountain College football team.

“And we lost our last four games. We’ve got to play better later in the year.”

The Battlin’ Bears (4-3, 4-2) begin the final stretch of the season on Saturday with a home game against Carroll College (1-5, 1-5) at 1 p.m. at Herb Klindt Field. It is the annual Paint the Bowl Pink game for breast cancer awareness.

Rocky is third in the Frontier Conference standings.

Rocky defeated Carroll 40-14 on Sept. 9 in Helena. It was the Battlin’ Bears first win at Nelson Stadium. Petrino has said it is Rocky’s “Most complete game,” this season.

However, things have changed since the first meeting. Both teams have new quarterbacks after the original starters were lost to injuries.

Freshman Drew Korf has stepped in for Jacob Bakken for Rocky. Korf was 11 of 15 passing with two touchdowns in last week’s 52-3 win over Montana State-Northern.

“He controlled the situation,” said Petrino of Korf, who is from Boise, Idaho. “When you’re able to run the ball with success (Rocky had 341 yards rushing), it makes the quarterback’s job easier.”

Sam Sparks ran for a career-high 156 yards and three touchdowns against the Lights. The running back from Billings leads the Battlin’ Bears with 517 rushing yards. Mason Melby has 492 (eight touchdowns) and Jade Olson 232.

Carroll’s new quarterback is Reese Hiibel. The redshirt freshman from Afton, Wyoming, was 25 of 54 passing for 283 yards and two interceptions in the Saints 23-10 loss to No. 11 Montana Tech last weekend.

Running back Major Ali has 418 yards on 86 carries, while tight end Eric Dawson has a team-high 22 catches for Carroll.

“You watch Carroll on film and their kids are playing hard,” said Petrino. “Some of the stuff they do defensively gives us fits. The want to take away the inside running game.

“We need to run the ball well and make third-down conversions. And defensively, we can’t give up big plays and we need to find a way to get some takeaways.”

The Battlin’ Bears have 20 takeaways this season, which is tied for second nationally. Defensive back Keenan Fagan leads the Frontier Conference and is second in the NAIA with five interceptions.

“We put an emphasis on it,” Petrino said of creating turnovers. “It’s a matter of being in position and being prepared. Secure the tackle first, then go for the takeaway. It creates momentum and gives your offense, hopefully, a short field.

“Keenan, he’s comfortable with what we’re doing. He plays with confidence and prepares well.”

Defensive lineman Ryder Rice ranks eighth nationally with 6.5 quarterback sacks, the second-most by a Rocky player in 14 seasons since Matt Koldenin had seven in 2008. Linebacker Billy Williams has a team-high 45 tackles, while Dallas Mack has a team-best 22 assisted tackles.

Kicker Griff Amies is 26 of 26 on PAT attempts. He has made 36 consecutive PAT kicks dating back to last season.

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