By Ryan Divish
It seems a bit early to be speaking of crucial conference games. But in the five team Frontier Conference every game seems to be important. All five teams will be in action Saturday with MSU-Northern and Carroll College opening their season while Montana Tech, Rocky Mountain and UM- Western will be playing their second game in as many weeks.
The Lights will travel to Dickinson, ND to take on Dickinson State University in both teams; first game of the season. The Blue Hawks will definitely looking for some revenge. MSU-Northern physically manhandled the Blue Hawks last year at Blue Pony Stadium to pick up one of its three wins on the season, 35-33.
All-American quarterback Nick Walker will lead the Blue Hawks again this season. Walker, a former University of Montana quarterback, almost single handedly brought DSU back from 28-14 deficit in last year's contest.
Carroll College will open its season with Rocky Mountain College in Helena. This game is one of those crucial games for Rocky which started the season with a 35-23 loss to Montana Tech. The last thing the Battlin' Bears want to do is open the season 0-2 in conference play.
Carroll, ranked third nationally, has decided on a quarterback, sort of. After much speculation during the spring and fall practice, the Fighting Saints will start redshirt freshman Tyler Emmert over classmate Robb Latrielle. Saints head coach Mike Van Diest told the Helena Independent Record that while Emmert will start, that doesn't mean that Latrielle won't play.
"We're not going to segregate anybody," Van Diest said. "We're going to start off with Tyler. He brings a little bit more dimensions with some of the things he does in the games that we want to play in. But both had an outstanding camp. It was a real, real tough decision. "
Rocky Mountain, on the other hand, seems to have its quarterback decision put to rest. In fall camp, there was some competition between incumbent starter Matt Kimmett and newcomer Benton Johnson.
Johnson, a 25-year-old redshirt freshman, won the starting job and his performance last week solidified his spot on the depth chart. Johnson, who last played in a regulation game in 1994 as a senior at Billings Central, threw two of his three interceptions in the first three minutes of the game but settled down to throw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort. Rocky trailed Tech 32-3 going into the fourth quarter but Johnson led the Bears back throwing all three of his touchdown passes in the final stanza.,
Johnson, knocked some of the rust off by attempting a whopping 67 passes. Johnson started his college career at the University of Wyoming where he redshirted his first year before leaving the school. In the years following, he worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, then on the family ranch in the Wolf Mountains and even worked as a chef while attending the University of Montana last year, Johnson decided to return home to restart his football career.
The Rocky-Carroll matchup kicks off at 1 p.m. and will be televised by the Omega network.
After opening the season with a win, the Montana Tech Orediggers face a considerable task to continue their winning ways. Tech will travel to Cheney, WA to take on the Division I-AA Eastern Washington Eagles. The game will also be the first of what is three game road trip that will see the Diggers return to Washington a week later, this time going to Spokane to face Whitworth and completing the road trip by traveling to Havre to take MSU-Northern.
"We'll be on the road more that Merle Haggard," Tech head coach Bob Green told the Montana Standard.
Tech will look to its senior quarterback Skylar Willard who was named this week's Frontier Conference offensive player of the week. Willard wasn't the only Tech player earning Frontier conference honors, defensive back Todd Schlaebitz was named the conference defensive player of the week.
Eastern Washington will be looking for its first win of the season after getting spanked 38-2 by Arizona State. EWU is led by quarterback Josh Blankenship who transferred to the Eagles from Division I-A Tulsa.
What Montana Tech faces this week, UM-Western faced similarly last week. The Bulldogs were shellacked, 48-7, by Division I-AA Idaho State in Pocatello, ID. ISU scored on five of its first seven possessions while Western's only score came on a Travis Kirby pass to Brant Humphrey late in the first half.
The Bulldogs will travel to La Grande, OR to take on the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers. Western had it's high octane fun-n-gun offense shut down last week by ISU but will look to crank it up against Eastern Oregon who will be playing its first game of the season.