LA GRANDE, Ore. — Finally, some positive history for Rocky Mountain College football.
Saturday, the Battlin’ Bears registered their first winning season since 1999, jumping out to a 27-0 lead in the first half and hanging on to beat Eastern Oregon University 34-28 to close out the year with four consecutive victories.
In finishing second in the final Frontier Conference standings, Rocky wound up 6-4 in league and 6-5 overall. It’s the program’s winningest campaign since the 9-3 playoff team of 1999 and only the school’s sixth winning season since 1971.
“It’s too bad we don’t get another game,” Rocky head coach Brian Armstrong said. “We’re playing pretty good right now.”
Senior quarterback Kasey Peters and senior tailback Michael Thomas combined for five touchdowns and also achieved personal milestones as the Bears overwhelmed the Mountaineers (5-5, 5-6) on a rainy, foggy afternoon at Community Stadium.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Peters, from Newport Beach, Calif., threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns in becoming the first Rocky quarterback and just the third Frontier player to pass for more than 10,000 career yards. He finished with 10,031 in 30 games for the Bears.
The 6-2, 230-pound Thomas, from Pullman, Wash., rushed for 101 yards and two scores against the Mountaineers to end up with 2,737 career rushing yards. That surpasses the 2,680 yards by Steve Thompson in the early 1990s, which is believed to be the school record.
Peters also rushed for 83 yards against EOU, most of it on a 78-yard scoring scamper late in the first quarter.
The Bears’ defense also contributed in a big way, intercepting three passes and recovering a pair of fumbles.
Cornerback Eric Buer had two first-half interceptions for the Bears. Linebackers Trenton Thelen and Steffan Blume were in on 13 tackles each.
“I thought our defense played outstanding,” Armstrong said. “They (EOU) have a ton of weapons. I thought our defense caused turnovers and was flying around all day.”
As the Bears’ bus was departing for the 13-hour trip back to Billings, the Rocky team received a loud cheer from parents and other fans.
“I think we had more people here than they did,” Armstrong said. “It’s like we won a bowl game.”
Rocky led 20-0 after the first quarter and 27-0 at halftime, but EOU closed to within 27-14 with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns.
However, the Bears regained some breathing room at 34-14 after Peters found a wide-open Nathan Barnett for a 28-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. That strike capped a six-play, 66-yard drive.
EOU kept the pressure on, though, climbing back to within six points on a 7-yard run by quarterback Chris Ware with 2:57 left, but Rocky prevailed for its first win in La Grande since 2007.
“Obviously they’re excited,” Armstrong said of his players’ reaction. “It’s a good way to send the seniors out and a good way to build for the younger guys.”
Thomas rushed for two touchdowns and Peters passed and ran for two more as Rocky built its big first-half cushion. The Bears accumulated 344 yards in the first two quarters and finished with 464.
Thomas scored on runs of 5 and 26 yards. Peters passed 18 yards to Barnett for one TD and also got loose on his 78-yard scoring dash.
Rocky receiver Mark Desin caught six passes on the afternoon for 108 yards, while Barnett ended up with four receptions for 88 yards.
EOU’s Ware passed for 283 yards and two TDs and rushed for 79 and two more scores. Tailback Kevin Sampson gained 174 yards and became EOU’s single-season rushing leader, with 1,309.