HELENA — Mike Van Diest had a bigger smile than normal across his face on Saturday afternoon. The Carroll College head football coach had plenty of reasons for the grin after his defensive unit dominated the Saints’ annual spring game inside Nelson Stadium.
“We were telling a lot of stories over there and I wasn’t paying too much attention to the stuff going on out on the field, we were having fun with all the guys that weren’t suited up,” said Van Diest. “There were some good things. It was hard because the offense didn’t have Shane Sipes, they didn’t have Joe Farris or Troy Arntson, they didn’t have Eric Dawson. That’s tough. When you take those guys out of the equation, you can see the last couple years we’ve had injuries at the receiver spot and we haven’t been as good.
“I thought the offensive line was gelling. I’m happy. We’ll look at what they did in terms of assignment and alignment afterwards, that’s the biggest thing I want to see. The competition will be there. Connor McGree, he’s going to be a good player, it’s just a big switch from tight end to center in one winter.”
McGree and the new-look offensive line held their own throughout the scrum, giving up only a couple of sacks, though the defense wasn’t allowed to take the quarterbacks to the ground. But Saturday’s competition favored the defense, which earned the first big play on an interception from second-year cornerback Xavier Pace.
“Our biggest thing to focus on is footwork and stuff, stay on the receiver’s hip, that’s what I did,” said the former Great Falls CMR standout. “Thankfully it kind of fell into my hands. I turned around, it fell into my hands, it was a gift but we’ll take it.”
“We’ve watched him for a couple years and he was high on our list as a junior recruiting and we were very blessed he chose Carroll,” Van Diest said of Pace. “I believe, and we have a lot of work to do back there, but our secondary has depth. We have Isazah King, we have Ryan Beaulieu, Drew Melton, three veteran corners. Throw Xavier Pace in there, Parker Stenerson maybe. We have young guys coming in that might push those guys. Safeties, you have Brian FauntLeRoy, Tony Madsen and McBride Galt, those are three good safeties at that spot. The depth part of it, we have to improve assignments and techniques and we’ll be OK there. At the same time, we’re going against good receivers this summer and fall getting ready for the Frontier Conference.”
The offense did manage one touchdown on the afternoon when Idaho State transfer Robert Kvinsland got into a groove under center. The quarterback picked up a pair of key first downs on passes to Matt Wiltsey, who tiptoed the sideline on a catch inside the red zone. Kvinsland tossed a corner route to Kyle Pierce in the south end zone for the lone offensive score.
“Coach (Nick Howlett) was making good calls, the offensive line was getting good protection and everyone was doing their job,” said Pierce. “We don’t necessarily have to get back to the drawing board, but we have to keep learning, keep getting better, always compete and keep getting reps.”
Carroll College opens two-a-days next fall as they continue to prep for the 2018 season-opening game at Rocky Mountain College. Kickoff against the Battlin’ Bears is set for 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23.