Rocky Mountain College’s football team has the week off from games, a bye this weekend nearly right in the middle of the season.
The Battlin’ Bears go into the bye tied for first place in the Frontier Conference and they will remain there until their next game, a homecoming matchup Oct. 8 against Southern Oregon.
First place, however, doesn’t mean much to first-year coach Jason Petrino. Not yet anyway. Like many, he’s waiting to see what his team will do against the league’s better teams.
“When we played (Montana) Tech, we got our butts kicked pretty good,” Petrino said Tuesday. “Maybe we’ll be able to evaluate where we’re at in the league after we play a team like Southern Oregon.”
It was a refreshing and honest evaluation by Petrino, whose team is 3-1 in the Frontier and 3-2 overall. The Battlin’ Bears lost on the road at Northern Colorado, an FCS program, in the season’s second week.
Throw that game out, for an intents and purposes, and Rocky is sitting at 3-1 and tied with Tech atop the tough Frontier Conference. A closer look, however, reveals the reason for Petrino’s feelings.
Rocky’s three victories have come against the bottom three teams in the league. In their one chance to prove something, the Battlin’ Bears were thumped 48-12 at Tech. Rocky trailed 31-0 in that loss.
At this point, Petrino doesn’t see his team in the same category as defending champion Tech or Southern Oregon, which has played in the last two NAIA national championship games.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re on top at all,” Petrino said. “Maybe if we’d have played better against tech or been in that game, possibly. But we’re far from being there.
“People say, ‘But you’re on top of the standings.’ If the season ended today, Tech wins the league and it’s not even close. … I don’t want to sugar coat anything. That’s the truth. If we’d have played better and Tech had been closer, I’d feel better about it. We’re not close. We have to get better.
That’s the goal during the bye week, which Petrino called an “evaluation week.”
He touched on parts of the game his team needs to get better, highlighting red zone defense, costly turnovers by his offense and the special teams’ return game.
Rocky practiced Tuesday and will do so against Wednesday and Thursday before taking a few days off. The team will then return Monday to practice, preparing for a Southern Oregon team ranked No. 9 in this week’s NAIA poll. The Raiders (2-2, 2-1) host College of Idaho this weekend.
“Bye weeks are big all the time, no matter who you’re playing the next game,” Petrino said. “Sometimes you just need that mental break … and any time you can get a break, it’s a good thing. Those things just don’t happen during the season.”
The Battlin’ Bears are coming off a 20-7 win Saturday at College of Idaho, which a week earlier won on the road at No. 17 Eastern Oregon.
Rocky played four of its first five games away from home, logging more than 3,200 miles in travel. They went 2-2 in those games, including the loss to UNC in Greeley, Colo.
Three of the next four games will be on the new turf at Herb Klindt Field, the last of those four a rematch against Tech. The one road game during that stretch is at Carroll (1-3), which is struggling again this season.
Rocky ends the season with a road game at Eastern Oregon and home against Montana Western. By then, Petrino figures to know exactly how and where his team fits into the Frontier Conference race.
The league this week has five teams ranked in the NAIA coaches’ poll. Tech is No. 10 and Western No. 24. Rocky is receiving votes.
“It’s going to be Tech and Southern Oregon, Eastern Oregon and Western, which is playing really well,” Petrino said. “It’s going to be one of those deals where it’s the last team standing. No doubt about it, you have to bring your ‘A’ game every week.”