HELENA — Carroll is eager to show its improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.
Rocky Mountain College, Carroll’s home-opening opponent, provides both another measuring stick, and a little shot at redemption.
During a 45-28 loss to Montana Tech, the Saints showed for one half what their offense was capable of. The defense was gouged for a few big plays, but overall the feeling from the half was Carroll could go even with the top team in the conference.
Carroll showed how Eric Dawson and Ryan Walsh could reinvigorate their offense, getting the ball to the pair in unique ways. The new-look offensive line opened up holes, leaving the unit with a feeling of confidence. Tanner Gustavsen made throws, and ran when necessary. Carroll’s defense limited Tech until a few plays broke through, but even then the new secondary had moments. Ryan Beaulieu, Tucker Johnson and McBride Galt all had pass breakups, showing Carroll could defend the throw, though the Tech offense eventually did break through.
The second half was another story.
The Saints reviewed their film and are ready for another test from Rocky Mountain (1-1). Rocky comes to Helena a week after defeating MSU-Northern 32-25 thanks to a late touchdown return from the electric sophomore Sam Sparks.
“He played as true freshman,” Rocky coach Jason Petrino said. “We’re expecting big thing out of Sam not only in the running game ,but also in the return game. He got a couple of big returns for us a year ago, sparked some momentum for us a year ago and helped us a win a game.”
Two games into 2017, Sparks won the Battlin’ Bears another game.
Rocky is a program looking to get on track in Petrino's second year. The Battlin’ Bears went 4-7 a season ago and graduated its core strength: Their seniors. Rocky has only 10 seniors on their roster this season and brought in 45 freshman through recruitment.
“We knew we had to do some major things to truly impact this league,” Petrino said. “One of those was we had to get out and recruit.”
He called it “a lot of upward growth and trend,” but admitted “It makes us completely different.”
The Battlin’ Bears return running back Jade Olson to complement Sparks.
“He unfortunately had an injury but was blessed enough to get back healthy and get a medical redshirt,” Petrino said. “He brings some stability to our offense, especially in our backfield. He’s a tremendously hard worker. He’s come back and is seeking another major. We’ve very very excited about where’ he's at. Right now, he just said he wanted to get hit so he could shake off the injury.”
Olson had two carries for 20 yards against MSU-N. The leading back that day was Mason Melby, who toted the ball 17 times for 149 yards and three touchdowns. As a team, RMC rushed for 307 yards, a factor Carroll will be keying on this week.
The Saints had some issues slowing down Tech’s rushing attack last week, which accounted for 175 yards. Carroll will be looking to slow down Rocky’s rush-focused attack, which had two 100-yard rushers a week ago and also gets contributions from quarterback Jacob Bakken.
Rocky also touts Brandon Mosley, the returning starting tight end, and three other returning starters. Petrino wanted to develop depth at receiver and running back this offseason, and it remains to be seen how his passing game develops as Bakken threw for just 107 yards last week.
“After that, we’re really young and inexperienced,” said Petrino, who played and coached at Carroll College under Van Diest from 1995-2003. “We brought 10 kids in January, half on offense and half on defense. We had some kids come in at running back and receivers. We took some injuries there and we found out pretty quickly we need to improve our depth.”
Prior to last week's win, Rocky had sought to measure itself against No. 15 Dickinson State. Rocky had an early lead, but DSU slowly took control and limited the Bears the rest of the way.
Last season, Carroll entered a Week 2 contest against Rocky riding high after knocking off Montana Tech. Rocky squeezed out a 21-20 win then. This time around, the Saints are 0-1 and looking for a bounce-back win.
Carroll hasn’t lost a home opener since 2011 when Eastern Oregon dealt the Saints a 41-33 loss.
Saturday at Nelson Stadium will determine if that streak continues.