DILLON – Life didn’t change much for Montana Western quarterback Bennett Gibson after he guided the Bulldogs to a 42-35 shocker over Montana Tech in a Frontier Conference matchup this past Saturday.
No one asked for his autograph.
He didn’t receive a standing ovation by fellow students when he returned to class this week, nor was a parade scheduled on his behalf in a town that regularly holds sports-themed processions.
“I went to Booster Bash,” Gibson said with a laugh, referring to the school’s annual fund-raising event that was held after the game. “I had some fun there. I hung out with my teammates and celebrated. It was a big win.
“Some people said congratulations and that was really cool. But it was the same people that I hang out with so it was nothing crazy.”
Maybe he’s just new to this celebration thing.
Or perhaps he was less surprised about Saturday’s outcome than those who packed Vigilante Stadium as witnesses.
Gibson said on Tuesday that he wasn’t intimidated by the Orediggers, despite their unbeaten record and accompanying reputation for demolishing opponents.
“We just believed,” he said. “We prepared. We had no doubt in our mind that if we played as a team that we could win.”
Gibson took a roundabout way to becoming Dillon’s current sports hero. Prior to committing to Montana Western, he had to decide if he wanted to play football or stick to baseball. He had played the latter his whole life and didn’t start playing football until his freshman year at Mount Vernon (Washington) High School.
One mid-winter trip to Dillon, along with some friendly advice from high-school coach Jay Silver, who played at Montana Western, helped seal the deal.
“I came here and fell in love,” Gibson recalled. “It was awesome. I came in February of my senior year in high school. We came to check it out. It didn’t take too long. I signed and decided to come play.”
Gibson didn’t come to Montana Western with thoughts of becoming its latest sports hero but after engineering a win over the No. 5 team in the country, being picked as the Frontier Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week, and the NAIA Offensive Player of the week – all within a span of three days – that’s essentially what he has become. He just prefers to keep things low key.
“It was a little surprising,” he said of the accolades. “I just went out there to try and win the game. I wasn’t going for awards. We just tried to win, which we did.”
Had the game against Montana Tech been played earlier in the year, there is a pretty good chance that the Bulldogs would have been just another team left drifting in the Orediggers’ wake.
Things weren’t going well for Western, which held a 1-3 record after four games. One of those losses was a 76-0 shellacking from Weber State, a team that Western head coach Ryan Nourse calls “a small Pac-12 team.”
But as summer turned to autumn, things within the Montana Western program changed.
The Bulldogs traveled to MSU-Northern and came out on the front end of a 61-7 score. It wasn’t the score that stood out to Nourse and the players. It was how the Bulldogs arrived at that finish.
“I thought Northern was way better than maybe what it was,” Nourse said. “Or maybe I didn’t give ourselves very much credit on how good we could be. I don’t know.
“We just felt like we hadn’t played a game yet. We hadn’t played a game as a team and that was the first week everybody played at an acceptable level. We’ve been working on trying to get all three facets of our team (offense, defense, special teams) clicking. That was the first week it did. “
“The first few games it was like the defense played good and the offense didn’t play good. Then the offense played good but the defense didn’t play good. The Northern game gave us confidence that if we all play together, just like we did in that game, then why couldn’t we do that against everybody else?”
That newfound confidence carried through the Bulldogs’ bye week and into Saturday’s game against Montana Tech.
The confidence didn’t waver, even as the Orediggers jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the game’s opening minutes and appeared ready to pound another opponent into the ground.
“It was a tough start. I was a little timid back there,” Gibson admitted. “As quick as it was, there was a lot of game left where we could come back. We just had to get settled in just a little bit. Once things started rolling, everybody was comfortable and we knew we could play with them.”
Gibson threw for a career-high 365 yards in the win over Montana Tech and tied his best mark with three touchdown passes.
The Bulldogs finished the game with 489 yards of total offense against the Orediggers, the second-most that Tech has allowed this season.
“They were physical,” Gibson said of the Orediggers. “They were big guys. But we’ve got a talented group of guys too. We knew that if we could just execute the plan and play like we could play, we could be successful.”
But now is not the time for Western to rest on what it’s accomplished.
The Bulldogs are prepping for its second game of the season against College of Idaho, and still has to deal with Eastern and Southern Oregon before the regular season ends. They haven’t given up on a shot at the playoffs – a plateau they almost reached in each of the past two seasons – but realize that they have to continue getting better.
The Bulldogs used their win over MSU-Northern to prove to themselves how good of a team they can be. Their win over Montana Tech was a testament to their willingness and ability to play against anybody. That includes the Southern Oregons, Eastern Oregons and Rocky Mountain Colleges.
“We can compete against anybody,” said the fifth-year senior. “No matter what they are on paper, no matter what they’ve been doing during the year, if we can execute what we’ve been working on and what we’re capable of doing, we can play with anybody and we can beat anybody.
“Every day in practice we have to keep working on getting better and never taking a step back. We’ve seen the first few games of the year. They resulted in losses because we didn’t play all three phases of the game. There has got to be a focus every day to get better so that we don’t take losses and don’t take any steps back.”