Subscribe for 17¢ / day

It has been 4,397 days since Rocky Mountain College last beat Carroll College in football.

Will Saturday be the day the Battlin' Bears finally breakthrough against the Fighting Saints?

Both Rocky and Carroll will hit the turf at Nelson Stadium in Helena as nationally ranked teams. Rocky, 3-0 overall, is No. 19, while Carroll, 1-2, is No. 12 in this week's NAIA Top 25. 

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

The Saints have beaten the Bears in 23 consecutive Frontier Conference games over the past 12 years and 13 days, but appear more vulnerable than usual after losing the past two weekends to Montana Tech 37-20 and Portland State 38-20.

Rocky coach Brian Armstrong, for one, isn't buying that.

"They're a very solid football team," he said. "I mean, more than solid. They're a darn good football team. The best football team we'll have faced at this point, for sure."

Rocky, coming off a 52-30 win at home over Southern Oregon University, is relishing its best start since the 1998 season. Carroll, which lost at Tech last weekend, will be playing in its home opener and trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 1999.

"We're going up there and give them our best shot," Rocky quarterback Bryce Baker said. "We definitely have momentum being 3-0 now, but we're not going to take them lightly.

"Even if they have two losses, it doesn't matter. We know what kind of program they have."

The Saints, who have won the past 12 Frontier championships and six national titles since 2002, have lost just one conference game at home over the past seven seasons.

The Bears last defeated the Saints, 14-3, on Sept. 2, 2000 at Helena's Vigilante Stadium.

"That's always in the back our minds ... we haven't beat them for so long," Rocky linebacker Travis Bertelsen said. "But like I've said, this season we're taking it one game at a time. Right now with Carroll, we haven't played them yet. Like coach says, we're 0-0.

"It's going to be one of those things where it just kind of depends on who comes out and does their job. That's how it's going to work."

No question, Rocky's resounding victory over Southern Oregon, coupled with Carroll's recent setbacks, has certainly added some intrigue to Saturday's matchup.

"I think any time you get to go to Helena it's a big game," Armstrong said. "That's because of Carroll's track record, because of what they've done on the football field, because of what their administration has done with the facilities and because of the game-day atmosphere.

"It's a great opportunity for a young football team to definitely find out how where they measure up in big-time NAIA college football."

Carroll beat Rocky 35-16 in Billings and 30-7 in Helena last season.

Against Tech, though, the Saints did something they don't normally do: Carroll fumbled twice deep in its own territory and the Orediggers capitalized both times en route to ending their 16-game skid to the Saints.

"Obviously, they made some very uncharacteristic mistakes last week," Armstrong said. "They're not going to make those this week, I can guarantee you. They're going to be extremely motivated for their home opener, with the way the last two weeks have gone.

"We've got to be prepared for their best effort because I know that's what we're going to get."

Carroll's backfield features bruising tailback Chance Demarais, the reigning NAIA national player of the year, who has run wild against the Bears in the past.

The 6-foot, 227-pound senior from Malta, who has been nursing an ailing knee, has 3,649 career rushing yards and 41 touchdowns. Last season, in two games against Rocky, Demarais rushed 68 times for 367 yards and four touchdowns. 

"He's just a hard-nosed football player," Bertelsen said. "I know he's a little banged up, but obviously he's got a lot of pride in what he does. He's got the mentality that he's going to beat you every play. We have that mentality this year. It's going to be a hard-nosed football game."

On offense, Rocky will turn to Baker, who is the leading passer in the NAIA this season with his average of 321.3 yards per game.

The 6-3, 205-pound sophomore was the NAIA's national offensive player of the week after throwing for 544 yards and five touchdowns against Southern Oregon.

Rocky is averaging 40 points per game — and showing some explosiveness.

"I think we've done a decent job of creating some of our own luck, which happens when teams are playing hard," Armstrong said. "But we're a long way away from being where we need to be."

Carroll and Rocky have met 100 times since 1949, with the Saints leading the series 81-17-2.

"My challenge to our guys every week is 'hey, let's make sure we're the most excited team to play,'" Armstrong said. "That's going to be a tall task in itself this week because I'm pretty sure that team in purple is going to be pretty excited to play."

 NOTES: Rocky's game will be broadcast on Billings radio station KFHW, 101.1 FM. It can also be heard on the Internet at ... The Bears will be without linebacker Jacob Barit, who is out with a shoulder injury. Center Jeff Houser is also dealing with an ankle injury, and his playing status will be a game-time decision, Armstrong said.