HELENA -- Jason Petrino has won in Helena before.
Never like this.
The current Rocky Mountain College coach and former Carroll College defensive back played with the Saints from 1995 to 1999, and coached them from 2000 to 2003. But on Saturday at Nelson Stadium, he coached his current team to a first: The first win in Nelson Stadium for the Battlin’ Bears.
Rocky dominated, 40-14, giving the Bears their first victory in Helena since 2000. They'd never before won in Nelson Stadium, built in 2001.
“Obviously Carroll College holds a special place to me and my entire family,” said Petrino, who played under Saints coach Mike Van Diest. “Mike Van Diest is an unbelievable person, unbelievable coach. Coach (Jim) Hogan. Coach (Nick) Howlett. They are some special people here. It’s an outstanding program. Obviously in the NAIA, the benchmark is to get what Carroll has done. We've got a ways to go. It’s good to come here and get a win. Two years ago they had a chance, and Carroll won on a Hail Mary. It’s good to come here and put a a game together.”
Petrino’s Bears got on the board first and never faced a threat from the Saints. The Bears forced more turnovers, executed better and kept the Saints defense off-balance. Save a few long passes, the Bears could have shut the Saints out.
By the end of the first half, Rocky built a 27-0 lead.
Rocky’s running game, the focal point of the offense entering the game, carried the Bears in the first half. Jacob Bakken, Mason Melby and Sam Sparks all powered into the end zone, with Melby’s 70-yard rush highlighting the half.
“Mason continues to run hard,” Petrino said. “Our offensive line continues to block well. Bakken made good choices with the ball. We've got some work in terms of attacking in our pass game to make sure we get things cleaned up and take advantage of some players.”
Petrino expected more out of his passing attack, though on Saturday it had its best day of the season. Bakken entered the game completing 22 of 43 passes for 200 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. While the Bears didn’t get their second scoring strike through the air on Saturday, Bakken looked good against Carroll. He finished 18 of 25 for 206 yards.
“I don’t know if we’re stretching the field very well,” said the hard-to-please Petrino. “I knew we under-threw a double post, and we missed on a couple of throws. I thought we had a chance. Like I said, our offensive is at least moving the chains and moving the ball. I know we hit with the fade ball and got it inside the 10. There were some things, but I know we had some things designed going into this week that we liked and we didn’t get it done.”
As the Billings Gazette reported earlier this week, Petrino’s team now carries with it a large bell. Each time it’s struck signals an achievement. On the Rocky Mountain sideline Saturday, the bell rung often.
The Bears racked up 503 yards of offense and held Carroll to 371.
Rocky scored four touchdowns, and went 4 for 4 on field goals.
The Battlin’ Bears recorded two interceptions and forced and recovered a fumble.
“We brought it out for our game last game and we decided to take it on the road,” Petrino said. “It’s just good we got a chance to ring it.”
They sure did.
Petrino acknowledged the idea came from this cousin, Paul Petrino, who coaches the University of Idaho. As the saying goes, the NFL is a copycat league. Those tendencies bleed into college football, too, and Petrino admitted he copied his cousin, and copied a few things that he’s brought over from Van Diest’s defense, too.
Van Diest, when told of Petrino’s comment, said “maybe I should steal some back because we weren’t good today.” His Saints fell to 0-2 on the season thanks to Rocky and his former player.
Huddled near the east end zone postgame, Petrino implored his team to keep climbing.
But a 2-1 start on the year, and a 2-0 start in Frontier is a good start.