Travis Bertelsen created some instant excitement for Rocky Mountain College on a sweltering Saturday afternoon by returning an interception 30 yards for a touchdown inside the opening minute.
However, it was a series of five consecutive scoring drives — spanning the second and third quarters — that really energized the Battlin’ Bears and sent Rocky on its way to a decisive 56-23 football victory over Dickinson State University in its home opener on Herb Klindt Field.
Rocky generated 552 yards on offense, capitalized on pass interceptions by Bertelsen and Kyle Mai and a blocked punt by Corey Bummer to start 3-0 for the second straight season.
“I thought the kids played hard and we did some real good things at times,” Rocky coach Brian Armstrong said. “We weren’t as consistent as we would have liked. Not a 60-minute ballgame by us, I don’t think, but we played well enough to win.”
While Bertelsen’s bit of thievery to begin the game helped to ensure the Bears would never trail on the afternoon, the Blue Hawks fought back from an early 14-0 deficit to get within 14-13 midway through the second quarter.
It was all Bears after that.
Rocky, playing fast on offense and defense, wore down DSU with a withering stretch of 35 unanswered points in constructing a 49-13 cushion by early in the third quarter.
The Bears’ relentless scoring drives covered 65, 64, 36, 55 and 22 yards. The shortest marches were set up by a blocked punt by Bummer and a pass interception by Mai.
Rocky’s Jade Olson, a shifty 5-foot-6 redshirt freshman from Malta, tallied touchdowns on two of the drives, scoring on runs of 5 and 3 yards.
“He’s been pretty steady for us,” Armstrong said. “He’s done a great job of taking care of the football. He’s got great vision. He’s a quick little bugger. He runs big. We feel very lucky to have him.”
Olson finished the day with 88 rushing yards on 13 carries and four pass receptions for 49 yards.
“We came out, and it seemed easy at first,” Olson said of Rocky’s fast start. “So everybody kind of, like, let up. These guys (DSU) didn’t let up, so we realized that once they started to come back we needed to step it up and it wasn’t going to be that easy. We had to play.”
Junior quarterback Bryce Baker, a third-year starter, threw a couple of TD passes during that stretch, a 4-yarder to Jonathan Aiken and a 23-yarder to MacKenzie McGrath.
Baker, who only played the first series of the second half, wound up completing 23 of 26 passes overall for 258 yards and the two TDs.
His replacement, redshirt freshman Chase White, also contributed to the game-breaking surge in tossing a 6-yard scoring pass to Michael Robinson to cap the 35-0 run.
“When we’re playing good, we’re really good,” Olson said. “But we can also make mistakes, and that makes us really bad at times. We’ve got to just eliminate those mistakes if we want to be the best, if we want to be great.”
Leading 28-13 and with the first half winding down, the Bears went for the block against DSU punter Josh Borm and Bummer, a junior defensive back from Laurel, came through.
“It was a great feeling,” he said later. “I almost overran it. It hit me right in the gut.”
Rocky wound up with the ball on the DSU 36 — and Baker completed back-to-back passes to McGrath for the quick TD and a 35-13 advantage.
“Any time you can block a kick that’s usually the big momentum swinger,” Armstrong said. “Usually it has a big say in the outcome of a ballgame. It was big to get that score right before half.”
Rocky’s 552 yards on offense included 368 through the air and 184 rushing.
The Bears fumbled in the end zone on a pass play to miss out on a touchdown late in the first quarter. Rocky receiver Cole Cattelan also recovered a teammate’s fumble in the end zone for a TD.
“We were a little bit sloppy with the football at times,” Armstrong said. “It didn’t come back to bite us today, but it will if we don’t get it fixed.”
Rocky was also flagged 10 times for 103 yards in penalties — with 45 yards of it coming on one of the Blue Hawks’ scoring drives.
“We’ve got to clean some of that up,” Armstrong added.
DSU, 0-2, had just 267 yards on offense. Jesse Carney rushed for two of the Blue Hawks’ touchdowns.
The other DSU score came on a 26-yard scoring pass from Kaler Ray to JT Keith in the fourth quarter
“We got wore down,” DSU coach Hank Biesiot said of Rocky’s 35-0 onslaught. “This year we are as thin as we’ve ever been maturity-wise in certain positions and that really showed. We got wore down mentally and physically.”
Rocky will have a bye next weekend, and then the Bears will host rival Carroll College on Saturday, Sept. 21.
“We’ve got to win that one,” Olson said. “That’s a big one. When you’re undefeated, coach always says, every game gets bigger — and I agree with that.”