BILLINGS – Some say the most dangerous opponent is one that’s backed into a corner with nothing to lose. But Rocky Mountain College is making a great argument for the opposite.
The Bears are as dangerous as anybody this NAIA season: loaded with confidence, not just winning but shredding opponents, and certainly having fun.
“It’s just nice to be where we’re at right now. We’re playing at our highest level and think we can even get better,” said receiver Taylor Schwartz before a recent practice. “I don’t know, it just … it is a lot of fun playing right now.”
Schwartz would know. The Glendive native has been at Rocky long enough to endure both thick and thin.
“There’s quite a few guys that are fifth-year guys here, that I’ve been with for five years and we love this place,” he said. “We’re completely bought in. Five years is a long time throughout our life. It’s a long time, so we just do everything that we can, and we just want to be successful.”
“It’s a grind, man, but every day we’re trying to get a little bit better,” said Bears safety Keenan Fagan. “Even though we feel like we’re on the top, we’re not quite there yet.”
Not quite there but seemingly with a one-way ticket if the Bears can avoid late-season hiccups that head coach Jason Petrino knows have kept his team from playoff trips the past couple years.
“First year, we were down a couple quarterbacks and trying to figure out who that person was going to be,” Petrino recalled. “Year 2, we lost some to injuries, running backs and O-line, just weren’t able to finish very strongly.”
Health is especially critical at the NAIA level where teams face limited scholarships. Rocky already has a handful of guys shelved for the rest of this season but also has its best start under Petrino in just his third season. The Battlin’ Bears are 7-2, and one of those losses was a forfeit to Carroll College (a season-opening 19-0 RMC win) for fielding an academically ineligible player. The other loss came on a touchdown given up at Montana Western with 32 seconds left.
“It’s a big change since the coaches got here,” Schwartz said. “It’s a big win mentality, like, that’s what it’s all about.”
“I think we all see the biggest picture now and we know what we’re capable of with the teams we’ve beaten,” Fagan said. “We’re kind of on the bubble of winning it and going to playoffs, so we’re treating it like it’s championship week, just like every week.”
Schwartz puts his finger on a few noticeable differences this season.
“A big part has been starting fast, and then finishing, as well,” he said. “Our four-minute (offense), we needed work on it and that’s what we did during the bye week a lot, and getting better at what we’re good at already.”
The 12th-ranked Bears are down to their final two regular-season games: Saturday at Eastern Oregon and Senior Day at home against Montana Tech.
Right now, Rocky looks good enough to not only reach the playoffs but to host at least one game.
“I think we all knew we were going to be here, and, right now, we’re not holding back,” said Fagan.