BUTTE — Blake Thelen looked perfectly at home in the pocket during Montana Tech's win over then No. 19 Montana Western on Saturday in Dillon.
The 2019 Great Falls High graduate and Montana State transfer tossed three first-half touchdowns and totaled 200 interception-free passing yards en route to a 33-24 victory that lifted the Orediggers back into the NAIA Top 25 poll at No. 21.
"I was feeling pretty good," Thelen said at a Tuesday practice. "All my teammates had ultra confidence in me, they were supporting me all week."
A redshirt sophomore who was promoted into the starting role after Jet Campbell suffered a leg injury on the final drive of Tech's home loss to Rocky Mountain College on Sept. 17, Thelen seemed at ease as he picked apart Western's secondary en route to a 30-7 lead in the first half. The Bulldogs didn't notch a sack against him.
He certainly didn't look like a quarterback making his first-ever collegiate start, but that's what he was. And he said he's headed into every game of his college career with a starter mentality.
"As a football player that' s what you prepare for," Thelen said. "You want to be the starter, you've got to prepare to be the starter. So I take every week of practice like I'm going to start no matter what."
His first pass as a starter was an 11-yard completion to Wyatt Alexander and that inaugural drive ended in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Kaleb Winterburn, a play he said he'll remember "probably forever."
With no timetable on if and when Campbell will return this season, Thelen is Tech's QB1 for the foreseeable future. He'll get his next start on Saturday as the Orediggers host MSU-Northern, a team Tech hasn't dropped a game to since 2014.
Tech, which is tied for second in the conference standings at 3-1 along with Carroll College and Rocky, will then head to currently undefeated College of Idaho where they'll be looking to keep pace with the No. 11 Yotes.
"Everything's ahead of us," Thelen said. "We still got College of Idaho on our schedule. So we got that little star on our schedule. Main thing is just taking every week one by one. Going 1-0 every week. Trying to come back out 9-1, see where that puts us for the playoffs. Try to make a run at it."
Things were looking grim for Tech after it's loss to the Battlin' Bears and seeing Campbell sidelined by a potentially season-ending injury. But after Thelen's promising performance against Western, and after toppling a ranked opponent, the mood at this week's practice is definitely brighter than the previous week.
"It makes being sore a lot better," Thelen said with a chuckle. "It's a lot better being sore when you win than when you lose."