MILES CITY — Playing in the nation’s first college football game of the 2013 season on Friday night, Rocky Mountain College fought its way to an impressive victory over Jamestown College.
The Battlin’ Bears, aiming to have a big year, got three touchdown passes from quarterback Bryce Baker and rallied from an early deficit to beat the Jimmies 34-20 in the heat and humidity at Connors Stadium.
Baker, a junior, passed for 265 yards, and Rocky rolled up 495 yards on offense in winning its season-opener for the seventh time in the past eight years. Besides throwing for three scores, Baker also rushed for a touchdown.
“If it had to be anybody, I’m glad it was us,” Baker said of winning college football’s first game of 2013. “It just feels good to get the first one out of the way. It’s going to be a long haul this season, and we’ve just got to improve week by week.”
The Bears trailed 13-6 in the second quarter, but then scored touchdowns on four of their next six possessions to build an insurmountable 34-13 advantage over the North Dakota school by early in the third quarter.
“I thought the kids played hard,” Rocky coach Brian Armstrong said. “We did some real good things at times, and definitely some things we need to get better at.
“We’ve got a quick turnaround here with a couple of practices before we roll out (for Southern Oregon) on Wednesday. Anytime you can get a win and still have a lot to improve on, that’s never a bad thing.”
The temperature was in the upper-90s for the 6 p.m. kickoff — and Rocky struggled early against the Jimmies in the heat before getting in gear offensively and defensively at the right time.
“Coming out here, it was so hot and muggy,” Baker said. “We started out kind of slow defensively, but we stayed in the game. That’s what we’re going to have to do.
“In the Frontier (Conference) it’s going to be dogfights, week-in and week-out. We’ve just got to learn to be tough and when we see some adversity we’ve got to bounce back and stay positive.”
Rocky certainly did that in tying the game at 13-all with 7:26 left in the second quarter when Baker found wide receiver Andre McCullouch, who was streaking down the middle of the field, open for a 70-yard scoring pass.
The Bears moved into the lead for keeps with an 8-play, 53-yard scoring drive in the final 1:37 of the half.
The go-ahead touchdown came when Baker lofted a 13-yard pass to a leaping MacKenzie McGrath in the end zone with 20 seconds remaining to put Rocky up 20-13.
“That was a huge moment,” Baker said of the clutch drive. “At that time in the game, we were still kind of feeling down a little bit.”
Rocky came out in the second half and scored on its first two possessions to move ahead 34-13.
Baker threw a 51-yard TD pass to McCullouch, who got behind two defenders down the sideline, and backup QB Chase White followed with a perfect 20-yard scoring strike to McCullouch over the middle.
McCullouch, a speedy sophomore, finished with six catches for 158 yards and three touchdowns.
“Dre has gotten better and better since he’s been here,” Baker said. “I remember standing here a year ago and telling you that he’s one of the best dudes I’ve ever played with, and that’s true.”
Baker, who only played in two series in the second half, completed 17 of 26 passes for 265 yards. He was intercepted twice.
Rocky jumped out front 6-0 with a 16-play, 70-yard drive on its opening possession of the game. Baker ran 5 yards for the touchdown.
“Offensively, once we settled in, I thought we ran the ball decently,” Armstrong said. “When they started to roll that safety down, we took advantage with some play-action shots over the top.
“Defensively, I thought, we settled in and started to tackle better as we adjusted to the game’s speed.”
As for Baker, Armstrong said, “I thought he did a good job of seeing the field and kind of knowing what we wanted to do and taking advantage of what the defense was giving us. He did a good job of extending plays, too, and getting out of trouble.”
Jamestown played the Bears tough behind the running and passing of quarterback Beau Eriksson. He passed for 259 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for 49 yards.
The Jimmies finished with 397 yards on offense.
The Bears will be making the long trip to Grants Pass, Ore., next week to begin Frontier play against Southern Oregon University on Saturday.
Game time will be 2 p.m. (Mountain time) at Mel Ingram Field.
The Raiders are ranked 14th nationally in the NAIA preseason Top 25 coaches poll. SOU tied for the Frontier championship last year and advanced to the NAIA quarterfinals.
Rocky’s home opener will be Saturday, Sept. 7 against Dickinson State University. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Herb Klindt Field.