Rocky Mountain College is still in it to win it.
The Battlin’ Bears remained solidly in contention to claim their first Frontier Conference football championship since 1999 on Saturday afternoon by taking down Eastern Oregon University 45-13 on Herb Klindt Field.
With quarterback Bryce Baker throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more, Rocky, humming along with its third consecutive win, improved to 5-1 in league and 6-1 overall in what is the school’s best start in football in 15 years.
The Bears, who are currently tied with Carroll College for first place in the Frontier and also ranked 12th nationally, turned in one of their most complete games of the season against the upset-minded Mountaineers from La Grande, Ore.
Rocky, coming off a bye week, scored on its first two possessions of the game to build a quick 14-0 lead it would never relinquish. The Bears began the second half by scoring points on their first four possessions (three touchdowns and a field goal) to impressively pull away from a 21-6 halftime advantage.
“That’s one of the things we emphasized this week is we’ve got to start fast,” Rocky coach Brian Armstrong said. “I was very excited the offense was able to do that, and defensively we were able to keep them out of the end zone pretty much all day.
“Really what we talked about was ‘hey, this time of year the best teams really start to play as a team.’ I thought we did a better job of that today. I still believe that we can get better.”
Baker, in playing one of his best games of the season, completed 22 of 30 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
He had scoring passes of 48 yards to Andre McCullouch and 25 yards to Cole Cattelan. Baker also had a pair of short scoring runs.
Senior tailback Pete Anderson added balance to the Bears’ attack by rushing for 120 yards on 15 carries and scoring a touchdown behind a sturdy offensive line.
Teammate Clint Linthicum also added a rushing touchdown as the Bears gained 240 yards on the ground and 328 through the air against EOU.
“We were just clicking on both sides of the ball,” said Cattelan, who snagged six passes for 111 yards. “We definitely have some things to work on still, but that was one of our more complete games of the year. It was fun out there today.”
McCullouch also caught six passes for 127 yards, while senior linebacker Josh Johnson helped highlight the stingy defense by being in on 13 tackles.
“Coach just preaches all week to fly around, have fun, play fast — and that’s what we try to do every weekend,” Johnson said. “We just try to get 11 guys to the football and tackle well.”
Rocky’s swarming defense held EOU running back Chris McGinnis-Parker to just 63 yards, which is about 40 below his average.
EOU, which dropped to 2-4 in league and 2-5 overall, had beaten nationally ranked Carroll and Montana Western in its previous two games.
Rocky, however, used scoring drives of 87 yards and 84 yards the first two times it had the ball to put the Mountaineers in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
The Bears’ first TD came when Baker found McCullouch open down the sideline for a 48-yard scoring play. Rocky came right back a few minutes later with Anderson breaking loose over the right side for a 16-yard touchdown scamper and a 14-0 lead.
“I felt like the offense was holding that in the whole bye week,” linebacker Johnson said. “I felt like they were ready to explode on somebody. I’m glad they chose today.”
EOU closed to within 14-6 on a 42-yard scoring pass from Zach Bartlow to Luis Ortiz on the first play of the second quarter.
That’s the way things stood until EOU punter Paul Blakely couldn’t handle a high snap, and Rocky took over possession on the EOU 36 following the 19-yard loss by the Mountaineers.
Four plays later, the Bears had a touchdown, with Baker scoring on a 2-yard run up the middle. Earlier, Linthicum had a 20-yard gallop to help set the stage for Baker.
In the second half, Rocky opened with a 61-yard drive, fueled by the tough running of Anderson up the middle and capped with a 25-yard play-action pass between Baker and Cattelan, also over the middle, for the TD.
“The defense kind of left the middle of the field open all game,” Cattelan said. “That’s kind of what we game-planned for all week.”
The Bears then turned around and marched 63 yards for another score, with Baker taking the ball in from 1-yard out on a quarterback sneak to make it a 35-6 bulge.
Cattelan was on the receiving end of three passes for 42 yards during the scoring drive, and Baker completed eight consecutive passes to open the second half.
Ryan Steska tacked on a 28-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, followed by Linthicum’s 8-yard scoring dash up the middle to put Rocky in control 45-6.
“I thought our O-line played well today. They did a nice job,” Armstrong said. “Our tailbacks did a heck of a job running the football, and I really thought Bryce Baker played one of his best games for us.”
With four games remaining, Rocky will play at Dickinson State (1-7) next Saturday.
“It feels great,” Cattelan said of being in the championship chase. “We’ve just got to worry about ourselves. We control our own destiny. We’ve got to keep winning each week and focus on the next team ahead.”
“Honestly, we don’t talk about that one bit,” he said of contending for the Frontier title. “We talk about ‘what do I need to do today to be successful tomorrow.’ I just think that’s the way to do it, and I think our kids believe that it’s a process.
“I mean, if you take care of your business day-to-day, you don’t have to worry about the outcome. That stuff will take care of itself. All we’re really focused on right now is enjoying this victory and then coming back tomorrow and getting ready to go Dickinson and win a road game.”